It has been known for decades that exogenous RNAs are able to induce cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and immunological reactivity to a wide variety of antigens. The molecular events responsible for these effects remain unclear for more than two decades. It has been decided to revisit this phenomenon in the light of new concepts that are just emerging in Molecular Biology, such as the regulation of gene expression by noncoding RNAs, named regulatory RNAs. The immunological effects observed in lymphocytes treated with RNAs obtained from lymph nodes of immunized animals with different types of antigens including synthetic peptides of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) have been investigated. Our recent results showed that regulatory RNAs are involved in this phenomenon, which is due to the activation of the RNAdependent protein kinase (PKR) by regulatory RNAs with subsequent activation of the transcription factor NF- κB. The RNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR) is a serine/threonine kinase and contains two RNA-binding domains (RBD-I and RBD-II) within the N-terminal region. PKR is activated by viral double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and highly structured single-stranded RNAs. This review will focus on the structure and functions of PKR including its role in HIV-1 infection. Special emphasis will be placed on a regulatory RNA, named p9- RNA, isolated from lymphocytes of animals immunized with the synthetic peptide p9 (pol: 476-484) of HIV-1. It was found that the regulatory p9-RNA induces CTLs and production of IFN-γ. These findings showed for the first time that transcriptional control of gene expression by a regulatory RNA can be mediated by PKR through the activation of the transcription factor NF-γB. A model for the mechanism of action of the regulatory p9-RNA responsible for the production of IFN-γ is proposed. Elucidating the molecular mechanism of p9-RNA may contribute to determining the rationale for the use of this regulatory RNA as an immunomodulator in HIVinfected patients.
Keywords: regulatory rna, rna-dependent protein kinase (pkr), noncoding rnas, nuclear factor kappa b, interferon (ifn), cytokines