Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus-encoded ORF8b strongly antagonizes IFN-β promoter activation: its implication for vaccine design

Jeong Yoon Lee, Jinjong Myoung,  and  Sojung Bae
Microbial Pathogenesis and Host-Microbe Interaction Journal of Microbiology 2019 Aug ; Vol: 57:9 Page: 803-811; DOI:10.1007/s12275-019-9272-7

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a causative agent of severe-to-fatal pneumonia especially in patients with pre-existing conditions, such as smoking and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). MERS-CoV transmission continues to be reported in the Saudi Arabian Peninsula since its discovery in 2012. However, it has rarely been epidemic outside the area except one large outbreak in South Korea in May 2015. The genome of the epidemic MERS-CoV isolated from a Korean patient revealed its homology to previously reported strains. MERS-CoV encodes 5 accessory proteins and generally, they do not participate in the genome transcription and replication but rather are involved in viral evasion of the host innate immune responses. Here we report that ORF8b, an accessory protein of MERS-CoV, strongly inhibits both MDA5- and RIG-I-mediated activation of interferon beta promoter activity while downstream signaling molecules were left largely unaffected. Of note, MDA5 protein levels were significantly down-regulated by ORF8b and co-expression of ORF4a and ORF4b. These novel findings will facilitate elucidation of mechanisms of virus-encoded evasion strategies, thus helping design rationale antiviral countermeasures against deadly MERS-CoV infection.

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