Size constraints for targeting post-transcriptional gene silencing and for RNA-directed methylation in Nicotiana benthamiana using a potato virus X vector

Plant J. 2001 Feb;25(4):417-25. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-313x.2001.00976.x.


Using a recombinant potato virus X (PVX) vector, we investigated the relationship between the length of RNA sequence identity with a transgene and the ability to promote post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) and transgene methylation. The lower size limit required for targeting reporter transgene mRNA de novo using PTGS was 23 nucleotides (nt) of complete identity, a size corresponding to that of small RNAs associated with PTGS in plants and RNA interference (RNAi) in animals. The size and sequence specificity were also explored for PTGS-associated transgene methylation and for the targeting of the vector RNA. The PTGS-competent short sequences resulted in similar patterns of methylation. In all cases, including specific sequences of 33 nt with or without symmetrical cytosine residues, the methylation was distributed throughout the transcribed region of the transgene. In contrast, short sequences lacking symmetrical cytosines were less efficient at promoting PTGS of the transgene mRNA. Short gfp sequences in the PVX vector provided as effective a target for the degradation of viral RNA as was found for PVX carrying the complete gfp cDNA. Short sequences were able to initiate PTGS of an endogenous gene, phyotene desaturase, although this occurred in the absence of DNA methylation. This experimental approach provides important insights into the relationship between short RNA sequences and PTGS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Genetic Vectors*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Potexvirus / genetics*
  • RNA, Plant / metabolism*
  • Tobacco / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Transgenes


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • RNA, Plant
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins