Vaccinia virus is a cytoplasmic, double-stranded DNA orthopoxvirus. Unlike mammalian cells, vaccinia virus produces double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) during its viral life cycle. The protein kinase R, PKR, is one of the principal host defense mechanisms against orthopoxvirus infection. PKR can bind double-stranded RNA and phosphorylate eukaryotic translation initiation factor, eIF2α, shutting down protein synthesis and halting the viral life cycle. To combat host defenses, vaccinia virus encodes E3, a potent inhibitor of the cellular anti-viral eIF2α kinase, PKR. The E3 protein contains a C-terminal dsRNA-binding motif that sequesters dsRNA and inhibits PKR activation. We demonstrate that E3 also interacts with PKR by co-immunoprecipitation. This interaction is independent of the presence of dsRNA and dsRNA-binding by E3, indicating that the interaction is not due to dsRNA-bridging.
PKR interaction mapped to a region within the dsRNA-binding domain of E3 and overlapped with sequences in the C-terminus of this domain that are necessary for binding to dsRNA. Point mutants of E3 were generated and screened for PKR inhibition and direct interaction. Analysis of these mutants demonstrates that dsRNA-binding but not PKR interaction plays a critical role in the broad host range of VACV. Nonetheless, full inhibition of PKR in cells in culture requires both dsRNA-binding and PKR interaction. Because E3 is highly conserved among orthopoxviruses, understanding the mechanisms that E3 uses to inhibit PKR can give insight into host range pathogenesis of dsRNA producing viruses.