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Nucleic acids are potent triggers for innate immunity. Double-stranded DNA and RNA adopt different helical conformations, including the unusual Z-conformation. Z-DNA/RNA is recognised by Z-binding domains (ZBDs), which are present in proteins implicated in antiviral immunity. These include ZBP1 (also known as DAI or DLM-1), which induces necroptosis, an inflammatory form of cell death. Using reconstitution and knock-in models, we report that mutation of key amino acids involved in Z-DNA/RNA binding in ZBP1's ZBDs prevented necroptosis upon infection with mouse cytomegalovirus. Induction of cell death was cell autonomous and required RNA synthesis but not viral DNA replication. Accordingly, ZBP1 directly bound to RNA via its ZBDs. Intact ZBP1-ZBDs were also required for necroptosis triggered by ectopic expression of ZBP1 and caspase blockade, and ZBP1 cross-linked to endogenous RNA These observations show that Z-RNA may constitute a molecular pattern that induces inflammatory cell death upon sensing by ZBP1.

Original publication




Journal article


The EMBO Journal

Publication Date





2529 - 2543


Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, Medical Research Council Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK


NIH 3T3 Cells, Animals, Mice, Transgenic, Mice, Cytomegalovirus, Cytomegalovirus Infections, Glycoproteins, RNA, Apoptosis, Nucleic Acid Conformation