Since its discovery, RNA interference has been identified as involved in many different cellular processes, and as a natural antiviral response in plants, nematodes, and insects. In insects, the small interfering RNA (siRNA) pathway is the major antiviral response. In recent years, the Piwi-interacting RNA (piRNA) pathway also has been implicated in antiviral defense in mosquitoes infected with arboviruses. Using Drosophila melanogaster and an array of viruses that infect the fruit fly acutely or persistently or are vertically transmitted through the germ line, we investigated in detail the extent to which the piRNA pathway contributes to antiviral defense in adult flies. Following virus infection, the survival and viral titers of Piwi, Aubergine, Argonaute-3, and Zucchini mutant flies were similar to those of wild type flies. Using next-generation sequencing of small RNAs from wild type and siRNA mutant flies, we showed that no viral-derived piRNAs were produced in fruit flies during different types of viral infection. Our study provides the first evidence, to our knowledge, that the piRNA pathway does not play a major role in antiviral defense in adult Drosophila and demonstrates that viral-derived piRNA production depends on the biology of the host-virus combination rather than being part of a general antiviral process in insects.
Keywords: antiviral RNAi; insect; piRNA; small RNA; virus.