A Viral Suppressor Modulates the Plant Immune Response Early in Infection by Regulating MicroRNA Activity

mBio. 2018 Apr 24;9(2):e00419-18. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00419-18.


Many viral suppressors (VSRs) counteract antiviral RNA silencing, a central component of the plant's immune response by sequestration of virus-derived antiviral small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). Here, we addressed how VSRs affect the activities of cellular microRNAs (miRNAs) during a viral infection by characterizing the interactions of two unrelated VSRs, the Tombusvirus p19 and the Cucumovirus 2b, with miRNA 162 (miR162), miR168, and miR403. These miRNAs regulate the expression of the important silencing factors Dicer-like protein 1 (DCL1) and Argonaute proteins 1 and 2 (AGO1 and AGO2), respectively. Interestingly, while the two VSRs showed similar binding profiles, the miRNAs were bound with significantly different affinities, for example, with the affinity of miR162 greatly exceeding that of miR168. In vitro silencing experiments revealed that p19 and 2b affect miRNA-mediated silencing of the DCL1, AGO1, and AGO2 mRNAs in strict accordance with the VSR's miRNA-binding profiles. In Tombusvirus-infected plants, the miRNA-binding behavior of p19 closely corresponded to that in vitro Most importantly, in contrast to controls with a Δp19 virus, infections with wild-type (wt) virus led to changes of the levels of the miRNA-targeted mRNAs, and these changes correlated with the miRNA-binding preferences of p19. This was observed exclusively in the early stage of infection when viral genomes are proposed to be susceptible to silencing and viral siRNA (vsiRNA) concentrations are low. Accordingly, our study suggests that differential binding of miRNAs by VSRs is a widespread viral mechanism to coordinately modulate cellular gene expression and the antiviral immune response during infection initiation.IMPORTANCE Plant viruses manipulate their hosts in various ways. Viral suppressor proteins (VSRs) interfere with the plant's immune response by sequestering small, antivirally acting vsiRNAs, which are processed from viral RNAs during the plant's RNA-silencing response. Here, we examined the effects of VSRs on cellular microRNAs (miRNAs), which show a high degree of similarity with vsiRNAs. Binding experiments with two unrelated VSRs and three important regulatory miRNAs revealed that the proteins exhibit similar miRNA-binding profiles but bind different miRNAs at considerably different affinities. Most interestingly, experiments in plants showed that in the early infection phase, the Tombusvirus VSR p19 modulates the activity of these miRNAs on their target mRNAs very differently and that this differential regulation strictly correlates with the binding affinities of p19 for the respective miRNAs. Our data suggest that VSRs may specifically control plant gene expression and the early immune response by differential sequestration of miRNAs.

Keywords: RISC; RNA interference; RNA replication; RNA silencing; RNA-protein interactions; VSR; antiviral; immune evasion; miRNA; plant viruses; plus-strand RNA virus; siRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis
  • Cucumovirus / growth & development*
  • Cucumovirus / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Plant Diseases / immunology*
  • Plant Diseases / virology
  • Plant Immunity*
  • Tobacco
  • Tombusvirus / growth & development*
  • Tombusvirus / immunology


  • MicroRNAs