CRISPR/Cas9 ablating viral microRNA promotes lytic reactivation of Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus

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Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications


The CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas9 (CRISPR-associated gene 9) system is an RNA-guided, DNA editing method that has been widely used for gene editing, including human viruses. Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV/HHV8), following latent infection in human cells, can cause a variety of malignancies, such as Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), and multicentric Castleman disease (MCD), with a high prevalence in immunocompromised patients. Of significant concern, the latent infection with KSHV has been shown to lead to increased resistance to antiviral therapies. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a set of non-coding, small RNA molecules that regulate protein-coding genes at the post-transcriptional and translational levels. KSHV has its miRNAs, most of which are expressed in latently infected cells and play a crucial role in maintaining KSHV latency. Notably, by regulating the expression of the downstream target genes in host cells, KSHV miRNAs can interact with the host environment to promote the development of KSHV-related diseases. Although CRISPR/Cas9 has been reported to edit KSHV protein-coding genes, there is no published literature on whether the CRISPR/Cas9 system can regulate the expression of KSHV miRNAs. In this study, we used CRISPR/Cas9 to inhibit the expression of KSHV miRNAs by directly editing the DNA sequences of individual KSHV miRNAs, or the promoter of clustered KHSV miRNAs, in latent KSHV-infected PEL cells. Our results show that CRISPR/Cas9 can ablate KSHV miRNAs expression, which in turn leads to the upregulation of viral lytic genes and alteration of host cellular gene expression. To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first reported demonstration of the CRISPR/Cas9 system editing KSHV miRNAs, further expanding the application of CRISPR/Cas9 as a novel antiviral strategy targeting KSHV latency.

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