Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia 65211, U.S.A.
The nontarget effects associated with silencing of the N gene in Nicotiana edwardsonii, an amphidiploid species derived from N. glutinosa and N. clevelandii, have been characterized in this study. The N protein confers resistance to Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), and is representative of a family of nucleotide-binding site leucine-rich repeat proteins present in N. glutinosa. Previous studies have shown that silencing of the N gene or of other plant genes associated with N-mediated defenses abolishes host resistance to TMV, and this effect can be measured through enhancements in movement or replication of TMV in the N-silenced plants. However, the nontarget effects of gene silencing have not been investigated thoroughly. Notably, are the functions of other resistance (R) genes also affected in experiments designed to silence the N gene? To investigate whether heterologous sequences could silence the N gene, we selected an R gene homolog from N. glutinosa that differed from the N gene by approximately 17%, created a hairpin transgene, and developed transgenic N. edwardsonii plants. Expression of this hairpin in the transgenic N. edwardsonii plants compromised the hypersensitive response to TMV, demonstrating that a single hairpin transgene could silence a block of R genes related by sequence similarity. We then investigated whether the response of N-silenced plants to other viruses would be altered, and found that the hypersensitive response triggered against the tombusviruses Tomato bushy stunt virus and Cymbidium ringspot virus also was compromised. This study indicates that a Tombusvirus R gene shares some homology with the N gene, which could facilitate the cloning of this gene.