The APOBEC family of single-stranded DNA cytosine deaminases comprises a formidable arm of the vertebrate innate immune system. Pre-vertebrates express a single APOBEC, whereas some mammals produce as many as 11 enzymes. The APOBEC3 subfamily displays both copy number variation and polymorphisms, consistent with ongoing pathogenic pressures. These enzymes restrict the replication of many DNA-based parasites, such as exogenous viruses and endogenous transposable elements. APOBEC1 and activation-induced cytosine deaminase (AID) have specialized functions in RNA editing and antibody gene diversification, respectively, whereas APOBEC2 and APOBEC4 appear to have different functions. Nevertheless, the APOBEC family protects against both periodic viral zoonoses as well as exogenous and endogenous parasite replication. This review highlights viral pathogens that are restricted by APOBEC enzymes, but manage to escape through unique mechanisms. The sensitivity of viruses that lack counterdefense measures highlights the need to develop APOBEC-enabling small molecules as a new class of anti-viral drugs.
Keywords: APOBEC family; Cytosine deaminases; DNA viruses; Innate immunity; Retroviruses.
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