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Double-Stranded RNA Binding May Be A General Plant RNA Viral Strategy To Suppress RNA Silencing

Zsuzsanna Mérai, Zoltán Kerényi, Sándor Kertész, Melinda Magna, Lóránt Lakatos, Dániel Silhavy

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ABSTRACT In plants, RNA silencing (RNA interference) is an efficient antiviral system, and therefore successful virus infection requires suppression of silencing. Although many viral silencing suppressors have been identified, the molecular basis of silencing suppression is poorly understood. It is proposed that various suppressors inhibit RNA silencing by targeting different steps. However, as double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) play key roles in silencing, it was speculated that dsRNA binding might be a general silencing suppression strategy. Indeed, it was shown that the related aureusvirus P14 and tombusvirus P19 suppressors are dsRNA-binding proteins. Interestingly, P14 is a size-independent dsRNA-binding protein, while P19 binds only 21-nucleotide ds-sRNAs (small dsRNAs having 2-nucleotide 3′ overhangs), the specificity determinant of the silencing system. Much evidence supports the idea that P19 inhibits silencing by sequestering silencing-generated viral ds-sRNAs. In this study we wanted to test the hypothesis that dsRNA binding is a general silencing suppression strategy. Here we show that many plant viral silencing suppressors bind dsRNAs. Beet yellows virus Peanut P21, clump virus P15, Barley stripe mosaic virus γB, and Tobacco etch virus HC-Pro, like P19, bind ds-sRNAs size-selectively, while Turnip crinkle virus CP is a size-independent dsRNA-binding protein, which binds long dsRNAs as well as ds-sRNAs. We propose that size-selective ds-sRNA-binding suppressors inhibit silencing by sequestering viral ds-sRNAs, whereas size-independent dsRNA-binding suppressors inactivate silencing by sequestering long dsRNA precursors of viral sRNAs and/or by binding ds-sRNAs. The findings that many unrelated silencing suppressors bind dsRNA suggest that dsRNA binding is a general silencing suppression strategy which has evolved independently many times.