Summary RNA interference (RNAi) is an established antiviral defense mechanism in plants and invertebrates. Whether RNAi serves a similar function in mammalian cells remains unresolved. We find that in some cell types, mammalian RNAi activity is reduced shortly after viral infection via poly-ADP-ribosylation of the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), a core component of RNAi. Well-established antiviral signaling pathways, including RIG-I/MAVS and RNaseL, contribute to inhibition of RISC. In the absence of virus infection, microRNAs repress interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) associated with cell death and proliferation, thus maintaining homeostasis. Upon detection of intracellular pathogen-associated molecular patterns, RISC activity decreases, contributing to increased expression of ISGs. Our results suggest that, unlike in lower eukaryotes, mammalian RISC is not antiviral in some contexts, but rather RISC has been co-opted to negatively regulate toxic host antiviral effectors via microRNAs.