Dipartimento di Protezione delle Piante e Microbiologia Applicata, Università degli Studi and Istituto di Virologia Vegetale del CNR—sezione di Bari, Via Amendola 165/A, 70126 Bari, Italy
Transgenic tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. cv. UC82) plants expressing a benign variant of Cucumber mosaic virus satellite RNA (CMV Tfn-satRNA) were generated. The transformed plants did not produce symptoms when challenged with a satRNA-free strain of CMV (CMV-FL). The same plant lines initially were susceptible to necrosis elicited by a CMV strain supporting a necrogenic variant of satRNA (CMV-77), but a phenotype of total recovery from the necrosis was observed in the newly developing leaves. The features of the observed resistance were analyzed and are consistent with two different mechanisms of resistance. In transgenic plants inoculated with CMV-FL strain, the symptomless phenotype was correlated to the down-regulation of CMV by Tfn-satRNA, amplified from the transgene transcripts, as the first resistance mechanism. On the other hand, the delayed resistance to CMV-77 in transgenic tomato lines was mediated by a degradation process that targets satRNAs in a sequence-specific manner. Evidence is provided for a correlation between a reduced accumulation level of transgenic messenger Tfn-satRNA, the accumulation of small (approximately 23 nucleotides) RNAs with sequence homology to satRNAs, the progressively reduced accumulation of 77-satRNA in infected tissues, and the transition in infected plants from diseased to healthy. Thus, events leading to the degradation of satRNA sequences indicate a role for RNA silencing as the second mechanism determining resistance of transgenic tomato lines.