Apoptosis is an important antivirus defense by virtue of its impact on virus multiplication and pathogenesis. To define molecular mechanisms by which viruses are detected and the apoptotic response is initiated, we examined the antiviral role of host inhibitor-of-apoptosis (IAP) proteins in insect cells. We report here that the principal IAPs, DIAP1 and SfIAP, of the model insects Drosophila melanogaster and Spodoptera frugiperda, respectively, are rapidly depleted and thereby inactivated upon infection with the apoptosis-inducing baculovirus Autographa californica multicapsid nucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV). Virus-induced loss of these host IAPs triggered caspase activation and apoptotic death. Elevation of IAP levels by ectopic expression repressed caspase activation. Loss of host IAP in both species was triggered by AcMNPV DNA replication. By using selected inhibitors, we found that virus-induced IAP depletion was mediated in part by the proteasome but not by caspase cleavage. Consistent with this conclusion, mutagenic disruption of the SfIAP RING motif, which acts as an E3 ubiquitin ligase, stabilized SfIAP during infection. Importantly, SfIAP was also stabilized upon the removal of its 99-residue N-terminal leader, which serves as a critical determinant of IAP turnover. These data indicated that a host pathway initiated by virus DNA replication and acting through instability motifs embedded within IAP triggers IAP depletion and thereby causes apoptosis. Taken together, the results of our study suggest that host modulation of cellular IAP levels is a conserved mechanism by which insects mount an apoptotic antiviral response. Thus, host IAPs may function as critical sentinels of virus invasion in insects
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