RNA interference (RNAi) is a crucial antiviral defense mechanism in insects, including the major mosquito species that transmit important human viruses. To counteract the potent antiviral RNAi pathway, insect viruses encode RNAi suppressors. However, whether mosquito-specific viruses suppress RNAi remains unclear. We therefore set out to study RNAi suppression by Culex Y virus (CYV), a mosquito-specific virus of the Birnaviridae family that was recently isolated from Culex pipiens mosquitoes. We found that the Culex RNAi machinery processes CYV double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into viral small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs). Furthermore, we show that RNAi is suppressed in CYV-infected cells and that the viral VP3 protein is responsible for RNAi antagonism. We demonstrate that VP3 can functionally replace B2, the well-characterized RNAi suppressor of Flock House virus. VP3 was found to bind long dsRNA as well as siRNAs and interfered with Dicer-2-mediated cleavage of long dsRNA into siRNAs. Slicing of target RNAs by pre-assembled RNA-induced silencing complexes was not affected by VP3. Finally, we show that the RNAi-suppressive activity of VP3 is conserved in Drosophila X virus, a birnavirus that persistently infects Drosophila cell cultures. Together, our data indicate that mosquito-specific viruses may encode RNAi antagonists to suppress antiviral RNAi.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.