Plant Pathology Department


Date of this Version



JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Jan. 2003, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 340–352, DOI: 10.1128/JVI.77.1.340–352.2003.


Copyright © 2003, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.


Citrus tristeza virus (CTV) produces more than thirty 3'- or 5'-terminal subgenomic RNAs (sgRNAs) that accumulate to various extents during replication in protoplasts and plants. Among the most unusual species are two abundant populations of small 5'-terminal sgRNAs of approximately 800 nucleotides (nt) termed low-molecular-weight tristeza (LMT1 and LMT2) RNAs. Remarkably, CTV replicons with all 10 3' genes deleted produce only the larger LMT1 RNAs. These 5'-terminal positive-sense sgRNAs do not have corresponding negative strands and were hypothesized to be produced by premature termination during plus-strand genomic RNA synthesis. We characterized a cis-acting element that controls the production of the LMT1 RNAs. Since manipulation of this cis-acting element in its native position (the L-ProI region of replicase) was not possible because the mutations negatively affect replication, a region (5'TR) surrounding the putative termination sites (nt ~550 to 1000) was duplicated in the 3' end of a CTV replicon to allow characterization. The duplicated sequence continued to produce a 5'-terminal plus-strand sgRNA, here much larger (~11 kb), apparently by termination. Surprisingly, a new 3'-terminal sgRNA was observed from the duplicated 5'TR. A large 3'-terminal sgRNA resulting from the putative promoter activity of the native 5'TR was not observed, possibly because of the down-regulation of a promoter ~19 kb from the 3' terminus. However, we were able to observe a sgRNA produced from the native 5'TR of a small defective RNA, which placed the native 5'TR closer to the 3' terminus, demonstrating sgRNA promoter activity of the native 5'TR. Deletion mutagenesis mapped the promoter and the terminator activities of the 5'TR (in the 3' position in the CTV replicon) to a 57-nt region, which was folded by the MFOLD computer program into two stem-loops. Mutations in the putative stem-loop structures equally reduced or prevented production of both the 3'- and 5'-terminal sgRNAs. These mutations, when introduced in frame in the native 5'TR, similarly abolished the synthesis of the LMT1 RNAs and presumably the large 3' -terminal sgRNA while having no impact on replication, demonstrating that neither 5'- nor 3'-terminal sgRNA is necessary for replication of the replicon or full-length CTV in protoplasts. Differences between the 5'TR, which produced two plus-strand sgRNAs, and the cis-acting elements controlling the 3' open reading frames, which produced additional minus-strand sgRNAs corresponding to the 3' -terminal mRNAs, suggest that the different sgRNA controller elements had different origins in the modular evolution of closteroviruses.