Bats serve as a reservoir for various, often zoonotic viruses, including significant human pathogens such as Ebola and influenza viruses. However, for unknown reasons, viral infections rarely cause clinical symptoms in bats. A tight control of viral replication by the host innate immune defense might contribute to this phenomenon. Transcriptomic studies revealed the presence of the interferon-induced antiviral myxovirus resistance (Mx) proteins in bats, but detailed functional aspects have not been assessed. To provide evidence that bat Mx proteins might act as key factors to control viral replication we cloned Mx1 cDNAs from three bat families, Pteropodidae, Phyllostomidae, and Vespertilionidae. Phylogenetically these bat Mx1 genes cluster closely with their human ortholog MxA. Using transfected cell cultures, minireplicon systems, virus-like particles, and virus infections, we determined the antiviral potential of the bat Mx1 proteins. Bat Mx1 significantly reduced the polymerase activity of viruses circulating in bats, including Ebola and influenza A-like viruses. The related Thogoto virus, however, which is not known to infect bats, was not inhibited by bat Mx1. Further, we provide evidence for positive selection in bat Mx1 genes that might explain species-specific antiviral activities of these proteins. Together, our data suggest a role for Mx1 in controlling these viruses in their bat hosts.
IMPORTANCE Bats are a natural reservoir for various viruses that rarely cause clinical symptoms in bats but are dangerous zoonotic pathogens, like Ebola or rabies virus. It has been hypothesized that the interferon system might play a key role in controlling viral replication in bats. We speculate that the interferon-induced Mx proteins might be key antiviral factors of bats and have coevolved with bat-borne viruses. This study evaluated for the first time a large set of bat Mx1 proteins spanning three major bat families for their antiviral potential, including activity against Ebola virus and bat influenza A-like virus, and we describe here their phylogenetic relationship, revealing patterns of positive selection that suggest a coevolution with viral pathogens. By understanding the molecular mechanisms of the innate resistance of bats against viral diseases, we might gain important insights into how to prevent and fight human zoonotic infections caused by bat-borne viruses.
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