Istituto di Virologia Vegetale, CNR, and Dipartimento di Protezione delle Piante e Microbiologia Applicata, Università degli Studi di Bari, Via Amendola 165/A, 70126 Bari, Italy
Viral infections interfere with the microRNA (miRNA)-mediated regulation of gene expression, determining developmental defects. In tomato leaves, the accumulation levels of six miRNA species and their target transcripts corresponding to transcription factors with roles in plant development and leaf morphogenesis and two genes involved in the short RNA processing, DCL1 and AGO1, were significantly enhanced upon infection with the severe strain Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV)-Fny, while that of AGO4 was reduced. In plants harboring the infection of the mild strain CMV-LS, the effects on miRNA pathway were reduced, although AGO1, DCL1, and NAC1 also were shown to overaccumulate during infections exhibiting a mild phenotype. The use of the recombinant strain CMV-Fny(LS2b), in which the 3′-terminal region of CMV-Fny RNA 2, including the 2b coding sequence, was replaced with the corresponding region of CMV-LS RNA 2, provided evidence that the exchanged region was implicated in the perturbation of miRNA metabolism. In tomato plants infected with CMV-Fny supporting the ameliorative satellite (sat)RNA variant Tfn-satRNA, the symptomless phenotype correlated, with the exception of NAC1 upregulation, with the absence of effects on mitochondrial RNA and miRNA expression. Some of the aspects of miRNA pathway perturbation described were peculiar to CMV--tomato interactions and involved in the etiology of the disease phenotype elicited in this host.