Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology



First Reader/Committee Chair

Newcomb, Laura


Influenza A is a single-stranded, multi-segmented, negative sense RNA virus of the family Orthomyxoviridae and is the causative agent of seasonal Influenza. Influenza viruses cause significant impacts on a global scale regarding public health and economics. Annual influenza virus infections in the United States account for over 200,000 hospitalizations, up to 49,000 deaths, and an $87.1 billion economic burden. Influenza A virus has caused several pandemics since the turn of the 20th century. The effects of Influenza on public health and economics, compounded with low efficacy of the annual vaccine and emerging antiviral resistance, brings to light the need for an effort to stem these impacts, prevent pandemics, and protect public health by developing novel treatments.

This project proposes an alternative approach to combatting Influenza by targeting host factors hijacked during infection that, if inhibited, significantly impair viral RNA expression, but result in low host toxicity. The host factors we examined include RNA export factors (XpoT and Xpo5) and RNA helicases (UAP56 and URH49). We selected paralogs URH49 (DDX39A) and UAP56 (DDX39B) because previous studies suggest differing roles during infection, but we theorize that their high degree of sequence similarity, similar function, and association with many of the same cellular factors may allow them to substitute for one another if one is inhibited.

CRISPR was considered as the primary method to evaluate the effect of knockout of these factors on viral RNA expression and host cell toxicity. CRISPR is an RNA-guided mechanism for gene editing and can be used to make null mutations in targeted host genes. However, CRISPR proved to be a significant challenge and, while we could not conclusively confirm whether the CRISPR plasmids were effective at targeting our genes of interest, our initial results were not promising and we did not pursue this approach further. As an alternative, host RNA export factors were evaluated using siRNA to knockdown the factor prior to influenza infection. RNA was analyzed by reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). The potential of inhibiting UAP56 or URH49 as a novel therapeutic target was determined using a visual assessment of cell death.

We found that siRNA-mediated knockdown of XpoT and Xpo5 did not have any impact on viral RNA synthesis early during infection. siRNA against UAP56 and DDX39 (targets both UAP56 and URH49) resulted in significant impairment in viral RNA synthesis, confirming previously established work suggesting that UAP56 and URH49 have important roles during infection. Importantly, these helicases play an interferon (IFN) independent role to enhance viral replication, as indicated by analysis in IFN deficient VERO cells. A viability assay relying on trypan blue exclusion did not yield trustworthy results, so a visual assessment of cell death was done. The visual assessment confirms previously-established observations that Nxf1 siRNA treatments result in a high degree of cell death, indicating the toxic nature of Nxf1 inhibition. Cells treated with UAP56 or DDX39 siRNAs demonstrated little to no additional toxicity compared to the non-target control, suggesting they can be inhibited to serve as antiviral targets.

Included in

Virology Commons