Rift Valley Fever Virus Nucleoprotein Triggers Autophagy to Dampen Antiviral Innate Immune Responses

J Virol. 2023 Apr 27;97(4):e0181422. doi: 10.1128/jvi.01814-22. Epub 2023 Mar 20.


Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a mosquito-borne bunyavirus that causes severe and potentially fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans. Autophagy is a self-degradative process that can restrict viral replication at multiple infection steps. In this study, we evaluated the effects of RVFV-triggered autophagy on viral replication and immune responses. Our results showed that RVFV infection triggered autophagosome formation and induced complete autophagy. Impairing autophagy flux by depleting autophagy-related gene 5 (ATG5), ATG7, or sequestosome 1 (SQSTM1) or treatment with autophagy inhibitors markedly reduced viral RNA synthesis and progeny virus production. Mechanistically, our findings demonstrated that the RVFV nucleoprotein (NP) C-terminal domain interacts with the autophagy receptor SQSTM1 and promotes the SQSTM1-microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 B (LC3B) interaction and autophagy. Deletion of the NP C-terminal domain impaired the interaction between NP and SQSTM1 and its ability to trigger autophagy. Notably, RVFV-triggered autophagy promoted viral infection in macrophages but not in other tested cell types, including Huh7 hepatocytes and human umbilical vein endothelial cells, suggesting cell type specificity of this mechanism. It was further revealed that RVFV NP-triggered autophagy dampens antiviral innate immune responses in infected macrophages to promote viral replication. These results provide novel insights into the mechanisms of RVFV-triggered autophagy and indicate the potential of targeting the autophagy pathway to develop antivirals against RVFV. IMPORTANCE We showed that RVFV infection induced the complete autophagy process. Depletion of the core autophagy genes ATG5, ATG7, or SQSTM1 or pharmacologic inhibition of autophagy in macrophages strongly suppressed RVFV replication. We further revealed that the RVFV NP C-terminal domain interacted with SQSTM1 and enhanced the SQSTM1/LC3B interaction to promote autophagy. RVFV NP-triggered autophagy strongly inhibited virus-induced expression of interferon-stimulated genes in infected macrophages but not in other tested cell types. Our study provides novel insights into the mechanisms of RVFV-triggered autophagy and highlights the potential of targeting autophagy flux to develop antivirals against this virus.

Keywords: Rift Valley fever virus; autophagy; innate immune responses; nucleoprotein; sequestosome 1; viral replication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy* / immunology
  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate* / immunology
  • Macrophages / virology
  • Nucleoproteins* / immunology
  • Nucleoproteins* / metabolism
  • Rift Valley Fever / immunology
  • Rift Valley fever virus* / immunology
  • Virus Replication


  • Nucleoproteins
  • SQSTM1 protein, human