Iron is an essential nutrient for nearly all living organisms, including both hosts and invaders. Proteins such as ferritin regulate the iron levels in a cell, and in the event of a pathogenic invasion, the host can use an iron-withholding mechanism to restrict the availability of this essential nutrient to the invading pathogens. However, pathogens use various strategies to overcome this host defense. In this study, we demonstrated that white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) protein kinase 1 (PK1) interacted with shrimp ferritin in the yeast two-hybrid system. A pulldown assay and 27-MHz quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) analysis confirmed the interaction between PK1 and both ferritin and apoferritin. PK1 did not promote the release of iron ions from ferritin, but it prevented apoferritin from binding ferrous ions. When PK1 was overexpressed in Sf9 cells, the cellular labile iron pool (LIP) levels were elevated significantly. Immunoprecipitation and atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) further showed that the number of iron ions bound by ferritin decreased significantly at 24 h post-WSSV infection. Taken together, these results suggest that PK1 prevents apoferritin from iron loading, and thus stabilizes the cellular LIP levels, and that WSSV uses this novel mechanism to counteract the host cell's iron-withholding defense mechanism.
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