SARS-CoV-2 Accessory Protein ORF7b Mediates Tumor Necrosis Factor-α-Induced Apoptosis in Cells

Front Microbiol. 2021 Aug 13;12:654709. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.654709. eCollection 2021.


The accessory proteins of coronaviruses are essential for virus-host interactions and the modulation of host immune responses. It has been reported that accessory protein ORF3a encoded by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can induce apoptosis, and accessory protein ORF6 and ORF8 could be inhibitors of the type-I interferon (IFN) signaling pathway. However, the function of accessory protein ORF7b is largely unknown. We investigated the apoptosis-inducing activity of ORF7b in cells. Cytokine levels and host innate immune responses, including expression of interferon regulatory transcription factor (IRF)-3, signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)-1, interferon (IFN)-β, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and interleukin (IL)-6, were also investigated. We found that ORF7b promoted expression of IFN-β, TNF-α, and IL-6, activated type-I IFN signaling through IRF3 phosphorylation, and activated TNFα-induced apoptosis in HEK293T cells and Vero E6 cells. These results could provide deeper understanding about the pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 as well as the interaction between the accessory protein ORF7b with host immune responses.

Keywords: ORF7b; SARS-CoV-2; apoptosis; immune responses; interferon.