ISG15-dependent Activation of the RNA Sensor MDA5 and its Antagonism by the SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2020 Oct 27:2020.10.26.356048. doi: 10.1101/2020.10.26.356048.


Activation of the RIG-I-like receptors, RIG-I and MDA5, establishes an antiviral state by upregulating interferon (IFN)-stimulated genes (ISGs). Among these is ISG15 whose mechanistic roles in innate immunity still remain enigmatic. Here we report that ISGylation is essential for antiviral IFN responses mediated by the viral RNA sensor MDA5. ISG15 conjugation to the caspase activation and recruitment domains of MDA5 promotes the formation of higher-order assemblies of MDA5 and thereby triggers activation of innate immunity against a range of viruses including coronaviruses, flaviviruses and picornaviruses. The ISG15-dependent activation of MDA5 is antagonized through direct de-ISGylation mediated by the papain-like protease (PLpro) of SARS-CoV-2, a recently emerged coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work demonstrates a crucial role for ISG15 in the MDA5-mediated antiviral response, and also identifies a novel immune evasion mechanism of SARS-CoV-2, which may be targeted for the development of new antivirals and vaccines to combat COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Preprint