Prion-like polymerization in immunity and inflammation

Xin Cai, Hui Xu, Zhijian J. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The innate immune system relies on receptors that sense common signs of infection to trigger a robust host-defense response. Receptors such as RIG-I and NLRP3 activate downstream adaptors mitochondrial antiviral signaling (MAVS) and apoptosis-associated speck-like protein (ASC), respectively, to propagate immune and inflammatory signaling. Recent studies have indicated that both MAVS and ASC form functional prion-like polymers to propagate immune signaling. Here, we summarize the biochemical, genetic, and structural studies that characterize the prion-like behavior of MAVS and ASC in their respective signaling pathways. We then discuss prion-like polymerization as an evolutionarily conserved mechanism of signal transduction in innate immunity in light of the similarity between the NLRP3-ASC, the NLRP3-ASC pathway in mammals, and the NWD2-HET-s pathway in fungi. We conclude by outlining the unique advantages to signaling through functional prions and potential future directions in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbera023580
JournalCold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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