Polymorphisms in STING Affect Human Innate Immune Responses to Poxviruses

Richard B. Kennedy, Iana H. Haralambieva, Inna G. Ovsyannikova, Emily A. Voigt, Beth R. Larrabee, Daniel J. Schaid, Michael T. Zimmermann, Ann L. Oberg, Gregory A. Poland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We conducted a large genome-wide association study (GWAS) of the immune responses to primary smallpox vaccination in a combined cohort of 1,653 subjects. We did not observe any polymorphisms associated with standard vaccine response outcomes (e.g., neutralizing antibody, T cell ELISPOT response, or T cell cytokine production); however, we did identify a cluster of SNPs on chromosome 5 (5q31.2) that were significantly associated (p-value: 1.3 x 10−12 – 1.5x10−36) with IFNα response to in vitro poxvirus stimulation. Examination of these SNPs led to the functional testing of rs1131769, a non-synonymous SNP in TMEM173 causing an Arg-to-His change at position 232 in the STING protein—a major regulator of innate immune responses to viral infections. Our findings demonstrate differences in the ability of the two STING variants to phosphorylate the downstream intermediates TBK1 and IRF3 in response to multiple STING ligands. Further downstream in the STING pathway, we observed significantly reduced expression of type I IFNs (including IFNα) and IFN-response genes in cells carrying the H232 variant. Subsequent molecular modeling of both alleles predicted altered ligand binding characteristics between the two variants, providing a potential mechanism underlying differences in inter-individual responses to poxvirus infection. Our data indicate that possession of the H232 variant may impair STING-mediated innate immunity to poxviruses. These results clarify prior studies evaluating functional effects of genetic variants in TMEM173 and provide novel data regarding genetic control of poxvirus immunity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number567348
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020


  • genome-wide association study
  • immunogenetics
  • innate immunity
  • poxvirus
  • smallpox vaccine
  • vaccinia
  • viral vaccines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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