Department of Molecular and Evolutionary Plant Virology, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas (UPV-CSIC), Ingeniero Fausto Elio s/n, 46022 Valencia, Spain
In addition to virion formation, the coat protein (CP) of Alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV) is involved in the regulation of replication and translation of viral RNAs, and in cell-to-cell and systemic movement of the virus. An intriguing feature of the AMV CP is its nuclear and nucleolar accumulation. Here, we identify an N-terminal lysine-rich nucleolar localization signal (NoLS) in the AMV CP required to both enter the nucleus and accumulate in the nucleolus of infected cells, and a C-terminal leucine-rich domain which might function as a nuclear export signal. Moreover, we demonstrate that AMV CP interacts with importin-α, a component of the classical nuclear import pathway. A mutant AMV RNA 3 unable to target the nucleolus exhibited reduced plus-strand RNA synthesis and cell-to-cell spread. Moreover, virion formation and systemic movement were completely abolished in plants infected with this mutant. In vitro analysis demonstrated that specific lysine residues within the NoLS are also involved in modulating CP-RNA binding and CP dimerization, suggesting that the NoLS represents a multifunctional domain within the AMV CP. The observation that nuclear and nucleolar import signals mask RNA-binding properties of AMV CP, essential for viral replication and translation, supports a model in which viral expression is carefully modulated by a cytoplasmic/nuclear balance of CP accumulation.