Intracellular DNA sensing pathway of cGAS-cGAMP is decreased in human newborns and young children

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Abstract

Newborns are highly susceptible to DNA virus infections, which may result from the characteristics of neonatal innate immune systems. Here we analyzed for the first time the development of innate immune sensing and signaling of intracellular DNA virus infection in human newborns and young children. Both mRNA and protein expression of cGAS, an intracellular DNA sensor, were shown to be significantly reduced in neonatal peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). In addition, cGAS expression in neonatal PBMCs could be induced upon herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or interferon-α (IFNα) stimulation. Furthermore, production of the second messenger cGAMP and activation of the transcriptional factor IRF3 was severely decreased in neonatal cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMCs) or PBMCs compared with adults. In contrast, the downstream signaling STING-TBK1-IRF3 appeared to be functional in neonatal PBMCs, as demonstrated by the fact that IRF3 phosphorylation and IFNβ production in these cells could be activated by cGAMP. Intriguingly, decreased expression of cGAS in neonatal cells can be rescued by DNA demethylation, with concomitant enhancement in IFNβ induction by HSV-1. Thus, cGAS restoration or STING stimulation by small molecules during infancy might improve the age-dependent susceptibility to DNA virus infection.

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