Small RNA deep sequencing reveals role for Arabidopsis thaliana RNA-dependent RNA polymerases in viral siRNA biogenesis

Xiaopeng Qi, Forrest Sheng Bao, Zhixin Xie

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203 Scopus citations


RNA silencing functions as an important antiviral defense mechanism in a broad range of eukaryotes. In plants, biogenesis of several classes of endogenous small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) requires RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase (RDR) activities. Members of the RDR family proteins, including RDR 1and RDR6, have also been implicated in antiviral defense, although a direct role for RDRs in viral siRNA biogenesis has yet to be demonstrated. Using a crucifer-infecting strain of Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV-Cg) and Arabidopsis thaliana as a model system, we analyzed the viral small RNA profile in wild-type plants as well as rdr mutants by applying small RNA deep sequencing technology. Over 100,000 TMV-Cg-specific small RNA reads, mostly of 21- (78.4%) and 22-nucleotide (12.9%) in size and originating predominately (79.9%) from the genomic sense RNA strand, were captured at an early infection stage, yielding the first high-resolution small RNA map for a plant virus. The TMVCg genome harbored multiple, highly reproducible small RNA-generating hot spots that corresponded to regions with no apparent local hairpin-forming capacity. Significantly, both the rdr1 and rdr6 mutants exhibited globally reduced levels of viral small RNA production as well as reduced strand bias in viral small RNA population, revealing an important role for these host RDRs in viral siRNA biogenesis. In addition, an informatics analysis showed that a large set of host genes could be potentially targeted by TMV-Cg-derived siRNAs for posttranscriptional silencing. Two of such predicted host targets, which encode a cleavage and polyadenylation specificity factor (CPSF30) and an unknown protein similar to translocon-associated protein alpha (TRAP α), respectively, yielded a positive result in cleavage validation by 5′RACE assays. Our data raised the interesting possibility for viral siRNA-mediated virus-host interactions that may contribute to viral pathogenicity and host specificity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4971
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 24 2009


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