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An exploration of the interplay between HSV-1 and the non-homologous end joining proteins PAXX and DNA-PKcs



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Trigg, Benjamin James 


DNA damage response (DDR) pathways are essential in maintaining genomic integrity in cells, but many DDR proteins have other important functions such as in the innate immune sensing of cytoplasmic DNA. Some DDR proteins are known to be beneficial or restrictive to viral infection, but most remain uncharacterised in this respect. Non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) is a mechanism of double stranded DNA (dsDNA) repair that functions to rapidly mend broken DNA ends. The NHEJ machinery is well characterised in the context of DDR but recent studies have linked the same proteins to innate immune DNA sensing and, hence, anti-viral responses. The aim of this thesis is to further investigate the interplay between herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), a dsDNA virus, and two NHEJ proteins, DNA protein kinase catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs) and paralogue of XRCC4 and XLF (PAXX).

PAXX was first described in the literature as a NHEJ protein in 2015, but whether it has any role in the regulation of virus infection has not been established. Here we show that PAXX acts as a restriction factor for HSV-1 because PAXX-/- (KO) cells produce a consistently higher titre of HSV-1 than the respective wild type (WT) cells. We hypothesised that this could be due to a role of PAXX binding viral DNA and directly inhibiting HSV-1 replication or activating an anti-viral innate immune response. We have been able to, at least partially, rule out both of these initial hypotheses by showing that there was a reduced number of viral genomes present in KO cells during active lytic infection, and that an identical level of type I interferons are produced from WT and KO cells during HSV-1 infection. Although further characterisation of HSV-1 infection in WT and KO cells has not defined the molecular mechanism of restriction of HSV-1 by PAXX, we have uncovered a potential role for PAXX in mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling. In addition, and consistent with its function in restriction of HSV-1 infection, we show that infection with this virus in WT cells induces a loss of nuclear PAXX protein. Preliminary data suggest that these changes in localisation may occur as a result of stimulation of the cells with DNA, but not the RNA analogue poly(I:C).

The role of PAXX in the regulation of HSV-1 infection in vivo was investigated by studying KO mice. Despite previous observations that mice lacking NHEJ proteins have brain defects related to autoinflammatory pathology, there were no obvious defects in the development of Paxx-/- mice, and they had brains of normal weight. No significant difference in viral spread or viral protein expression was observed between WT and KO HSV-1 infected mice, and KO mice did not exhibit abnormal pathology. There were, however, small but significant differences in the cellular immune response to infection which might be explained by reduced MAPK signalling in KO cells.

DNA-PKcs is another component of the NHEJ machinery that acts to assist in dsDNA break repair in the nucleus and as an innate sensor of cytoplasmic viral DNA, but the effect of DNA-PKcs on HSV-1 infection has not been fully explored. Murine skin fibroblasts (MSFs) derived from wild type and PRKDC-/- (DNA-PKcs deficient) mice were cultured ex vivo and used for innate immune studies. Although HSV-1 was able to infect and stimulate these cells, no differences in the stimulation of innate immune gene expression between the two genotypes was observed, suggesting that DNA-PKcs does not contribute to HSV-1 sensing in MSFs. It has previously been reported that the HSV-1 protein ICP0 targets DNA-PKcs for degradation, although the reason for this is unknown. We confirmed these data, although found it to be cell-type specific and explored this interaction further using PRKDC-/- RPE-1 cells created using CRISPR/Cas9. HSV-1 infection in these cells followed unusual dynamics, and the development of cytopathic effect was accelerated as compared to WT cells. Together these observations confirm that DNA-PKcs regulates HSV-1 infection, but more work is required to fully understand the mechanisms involved.





Ferguson, Brian


DNA damage, HSV-1, PAXX, DNA-PKcs, Innate immunity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Wildy scholarship (Gonville and Caius)