High-Content Screening and Computational Prediction Reveal Viral Genes That Suppress the Innate Immune Response

Tai L. Ng, Erika J. Olson, Tae Yeon Yoo, H. Sloane Weiss, Yukiye Koide, Peter D. Koch, Nathan J. Rollins, Pia Mach, Tobias Meisinger, Trenton Bricken, Timothy Z. Chang, Colin Molloy, Jerome Zurcher, Roger L. Chang, Timothy J. Mitchison, John I. Glass, Debora S. Marks, Jeffrey C. Way, Pamela A. Silver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Suppression of the host innate immune response is a critical aspect of viral replication. Upon infection, viruses may introduce one or more proteins that inhibit key immune pathways, such as the type I interferon pathway. However, the ability to predict and evaluate viral protein bioactivity on targeted pathways remains challenging and is typically done on a single-virus or -gene basis. Here, we present a medium-throughput high-content cell-based assay to reveal the immunosuppressive effects of viral proteins. To test the predictive power of our approach, we developed a library of 800 genes encoding known, predicted, and uncharacterized human virus genes. We found that previously known immune suppressors from numerous viral families such as Picornaviridae and Flaviviridae recorded positive responses. These include a number of viral proteases for which we further confirmed that innate immune suppression depends on protease activity. A class of predicted inhibitors encoded by Rhabdoviridae viruses was demonstrated to block nuclear transport, and several previously uncharacterized proteins from uncultivated viruses were shown to inhibit nuclear transport of the transcription factors NF-k B and interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3). We propose that this pathway-based assay, together with early sequencing, gene synthesis, and viral infection studies, could partly serve as the basis for rapid in vitro characterization of novel viral proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • expression systems
  • virus-host interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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