Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 34914162
Link to DOI – 10.15252/embr.202154341
EMBO Rep 2021 Dec; (): e54341
SARS-CoV-2 infection results in impaired interferon response in patients with severe COVID-19. However, how SARS-CoV-2 interferes with host immune responses is incompletely understood. Here, we sequence small RNAs from SARS-CoV-2-infected human cells and identify a microRNA (miRNA) derived from a recently evolved region of the viral genome. We show that the virus-derived miRNA produces two miRNA isoforms in infected cells by the enzyme Dicer, which are loaded into Argonaute proteins. Moreover, the predominant miRNA isoform targets the 3’UTR of interferon-stimulated genes and represses their expression in a miRNA-like fashion. Finally, the two viral miRNA isoforms were detected in nasopharyngeal swabs from COVID-19 patients. We propose that SARS-CoV-2 can potentially employ a virus-derived miRNA to hijack the host miRNA machinery, which could help to evade the interferon-mediated immune response.