DDX17 is an essential mediator of sterile NLRC4 inflammasome activation by retrotransposon RNAs

Sci Immunol. 2021 Dec 3;6(66):eabi4493. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abi4493. Epub 2021 Dec 3.


Detection of microbial products by multiprotein complexes known as inflammasomes is pivotal to host defense against pathogens. Nucleotide-binding domain leucine-rich repeat (NLR) CARD domain containing 4 (NLRC4) forms an inflammasome in response to bacterial products; this requires their detection by NLR family apoptosis inhibitory proteins (NAIPs), with which NLRC4 physically associates. However, the mechanisms underlying sterile NLRC4 inflammasome activation, which is implicated in chronic noninfectious diseases, remain unknown. Here, we report that endogenous short interspersed nuclear element (SINE) RNAs, which promote atrophic macular degeneration (AMD) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), induce NLRC4 inflammasome activation independent of NAIPs. We identify DDX17, a DExD/H box RNA helicase, as the sensor of SINE RNAs that licenses assembly of an inflammasome comprising NLRC4, NLR pyrin domain–containing protein 3, and apoptosis-associated speck-like protein–containing CARD and induces caspase-1 activation and cytokine release. Inhibiting DDX17-mediated NLRC4 inflammasome activation decreased interleukin-18 release in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of patients with SLE and prevented retinal degeneration in an animal model of AMD. Our findings uncover a previously unrecognized noncanonical NLRC4 inflammasome activated by endogenous retrotransposons and provide potential therapeutic targets for SINE RNA–driven diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / deficiency
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / immunology*
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / deficiency
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / immunology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / immunology*
  • Inflammasomes / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • RNA / immunology*
  • Retroelements / immunology*


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Inflammasomes
  • Ipaf protein, mouse
  • Retroelements
  • RNA
  • Ddx17 protein, mouse
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases