Istituto di Virologia Vegetale, Sez. di Torino, CNR, Strada delle Cacce 73, Torino 10135, Italy
All known pepper cultivars resistant to Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) possess a single dominant resistance gene, Tsw. Recently, naturally occurring resistance-breaking (RB) TSWV strains have been identified, causing major concerns. We used a collection of such strains to identify the specific genetic determinant that allows the virus to overcome the Tsw gene in Capsicum spp. A reverse genetic approach is still not feasible for TSWV; therefore, we analyzed reassortants between wild-type (WT) and RB strains. Our results confirmed that the S RNA, which encodes both the nucleocapsid protein (N) and a nonstructural protein (NSs), carries the genetic determinant responsible for Tsw resistance breakdown. We then used full-length S RNA segments or the proteins they encode to compare the sequences of WT and related RB strains, and obtained indirect evidence that the NSs protein is the avirulence factor in question. Transient expression of NSs protein from WT and RB strains showed that they both can equally suppress post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS). Moreover, biological characterization of two RB strains carrying deletions in the NSs protein showed that NSs is important in maintaining TSWV infection in newly emerging leaves over time, preventing recovery. Analysis of another RB strain phenotype allowed us to conclude that local necrotic response is not sufficient for resistance in Capsicum spp. carrying the Tsw gene.