An isoform of Dicer protects mammalian stem cells against multiple RNA viruses

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In mammals, early resistance to viruses relies on interferons, which protect differentiated cells but not stem cells from viral replication. Many other organisms rely instead on RNA interference (RNAi) mediated by a specialized Dicer protein that cleaves viral double-stranded RNA. Whether RNAi also contributes to mammalian antiviral immunity remains controversial. We identified an isoform of Dicer, named antiviral Dicer (aviD), that protects tissue stem cells from RNA viruses—including Zika virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)—by dicing viral double-stranded RNA to orchestrate antiviral RNAi. Our work sheds light on the molecular regulation of antiviral RNAi in mammalian innate immunity, in which different cell-intrinsic antiviral pathways can be tailored to the differentiation status of cells.