Stimulation of the antiviral response depends on the sensing of viral pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) by specialized cellular proteins. During infection with RNA viruses, 5’-di-or-triphosphates accompanying specific single or double-stranded RNA motifs trigger signaling of intracellular RIG-I-like receptors (RLRs) and initiate the antiviral response. Although these molecular signatures are present during the replication of many viruses, it is unknown whether they are sufficient for strong activation of RLRs during infection. Immunostimulatory defective viral genomes (iDVGs) from Sendai virus (SeV) are among the most potent natural viral triggers of antiviral immunity. Here we describe an RNA motif (DVG70-114) that is essential for the potent immunostimulatory activity of 5’-triphosphate-containing SeV iDVGs. DVG70-114 enhances viral sensing by the host cell independently of the long stretches of complementary RNA flanking the iDVGs, and it retains its stimulatory potential when transferred to otherwise inert viral RNA. In vitro analysis showed that DVG70-114 augments the binding of RIG-I to viral RNA and promotes enhanced RIG-I polymerization, thereby facilitating the onset of the antiviral response. Together, our results define a new natural viral PAMP enhancer motif that promotes viral recognition by RLRs and confers potent immunostimulatory activity to viral RNA.
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