The rubella virus is the causative agent of postnatal German measles and the congenital rubella syndrome. The majority of the rubella virus replication complexes originate from the endomembrane system. The rubella virus perturbs the signaling pathways regulating the formation of autophagic membranes in the infected cells, including the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK and PI3K/Akt pathways. It is widely accepted that these pathways inhibit autophagy. In contrast, the class III PI3K enzymes are essential for autophagy initiation. By manipulating the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK, class I PI3K/Akt and class III PI3K axes of signal transduction, the rubella virus may differentially regulate the autophagic cascade, with consequent stimulation of the initiation and strong suppression of the later phases. Dysregulation of autophagy by this virus can have a significant impact on the construction of replication compartments by regulating membrane trafficking. We hypothesize that the rubella virus perturbs the autophagic process in order to prevent the degradation of the virus progeny, and to ensure its replication by hijacking omegasomes for the construction of the replication complexes. The virus is therefore able to utilize an antiviral mechanism to its own advantage. Therapeutic modalities targeting the autophagic process may help to ameliorate the serious consequences of the congenital rubella syndrome.
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