SARS-CoV-2 ORF6 disrupts innate immune signalling by inhibiting cellular mRNA export

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SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus and the etiological agent of COVID-19, a devastating infectious disease. Due to its far-reaching effect on human health, there is an urgent and growing need to understand the viral molecular biology of SARS-CoV-2 and its interaction with the host cell. SARS-CoV-2 encodes 9 predicted accessory proteins, which are presumed to be dispensable for in vitro replication, most likely having a role in modulating the host cell environment to aid viral replication. Here we show that the ORF6 accessory protein interacts with cellular Rae1 to inhibit cellular protein production by blocking mRNA export. We utilised cell fractionation coupled with mRNAseq to explore which cellular mRNA species are affected by ORF6 expression and show that ORF6 can inhibit the export of many mRNA including those encoding antiviral factors such as IRF1 and RIG-I. We also show that export of these mRNA is blocked in the context of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Together, our studies identify a novel mechanism by which SARS-CoV-2 can manipulate the host cell environment to supress antiviral responses, providing further understanding to the replication strategies of a virus that has caused an unprecedented global health crisis.