Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) are the major producers of type I and type III interferons (IFNs) that play essential roles in host antiviral immunity. MicroRNAs (miRs) are small, noncoding RNAs that can modulate many immune processes. Although molecular regulation of type I IFN production by pDCs has been studied extensively, the regulation of type III IFN production has not been studied thoroughly, particularly at posttranscriptional level. We show here that miR-21 is an essential positive regulator for the production of both IFN-α and IFN-λ by pDCs and for promoting host defense against viral infection. miR-21 was markedly upregulated in toll-like receptor (TLR)-activated pDCs and was crucial for TLR7/9 ligand- or herpesvirus-induced production of IFN-α and IFN-λ by pDCs. miR-21-deficient pDCs produced significantly lower levels of IFN-α and IFN-λ on activation than those by wild-type pDCs. Impaired antiviral immune responses were also observed in miR-21-deficient mice. Mechanistically, we identified phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) as the major target of miR-21 in pDCs, and miR-21 deficiency resulted in increased expression of PTEN that suppressed TLR-mediated activation of PI3K-Akt-mTOR signaling in pDCs. Hence, our findings provide evidence that miR-21 positively regulates both IFN-α and IFN-λ production and identify an important role for miR-21 in regulating the function of pDCs and in host antiviral immunity.
Keywords: innate immunity; interferons; microRNA-21; phosphatase and tensin homolog; plasmacytoid dendritic cell; toll-like receptors.