Background: Mycoviruses are viruses that naturally infect and replicate in fungi. Aspergillus fumigatus, an opportunistic pathogen causing fungal lung diseases in humans and animals, was recently shown to harbour several different types of mycoviruses. A well-characterised defence against virus infection is RNA silencing. The A. fumigatus genome encodes essential components of the RNA silencing machinery, including Dicer, Argonaute and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) homologues. Active silencing of double-stranded (ds)RNA and the generation of small RNAs (sRNAs) has been shown for several mycoviruses and it is anticipated that a similar mechanism will be activated in A. fumigatus isolates infected with mycoviruses.
Results: To investigate the existence and nature of A. fumigatus sRNAs, sRNA-seq libraries of virus-free and virus-infected isolates were created using Scriptminer adapters and compared. Three dsRNA viruses were investigated: Aspergillus fumigatus partitivirus-1 (AfuPV-1, PV), Aspergillus fumigatus chrysovirus (AfuCV, CV) and Aspergillus fumigatus tetramycovirus-1 (AfuTmV-1, NK) which were selected because they induce phenotypic changes such as coloration and sectoring. The dsRNAs of all three viruses, which included two conventionally encapsidated ones PV and CV and one unencapsidated example NK, were silenced and yielded characteristic vsiRNAs together with co-incidental silencing of host fungal genes which shared sequence homology with the viral genomes.
Conclusions: Virus-derived sRNAs were detected and characterised in the presence of virus infection. Differentially expressed A. fumigatus microRNA-like (miRNA-like) sRNAs and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) were detected and validated. Host sRNA loci which were differentially expressed as a result of virus infection were also identified. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting the sRNA profiles of A. fumigatus isolates.
Keywords: Aspergillus fumigatus; Differential expression; Double-stranded RNA mycovirus; Fungal sRNA; miRNA-like sRNA; sRNA-seq; vsiRNA.