Suppressors of RNA silencing encoded by the components of the cotton leaf curl begomovirus-betasatellite complex.
Begomoviruses (family Geminiviridae) are single-stranded DNA viruses transmitted by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci. Many economically important diseases in crops are caused by begomoviruses, particularly in tropical and subtropical environments. These include the betasatellite-associated begomoviruses causing cotton leaf curl disease (CLCuD) that causes significant losses to a mainstay of the economy of Pakistan, cotton. RNA interference (RNAi) or gene silencing is a natural defense response of plants against invading viruses. In counter-defense, viruses encode suppressors of gene silencing that allow them to effectively invade plants. Here, we have analyzed the ability of the begomovirus Cotton leaf curl Multan virus (CLCuMV) and its associated betasatellite, Cotton leaf curl Multan ?-satellite (CLCuMB) which, together, cause CLCuD, and the nonessential alphasatellite (Cotton leaf curl Multan alphasatellite [CLCuMA]) for their ability to suppress gene silencing in Nicotiana benthamiana. The results showed that CLCuMV by itself was unable to efficiently block silencing. However, in the presence of the betasatellite, gene silencing was entirely suppressed. Silencing was not affected in any way when infections included CLCuMA, although the alphasatellite was, for the first time, shown to be a target of RNA silencing, inducing the production in planta of specific small interfering RNAs, the effectors of silencing. Subsequently, using a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction assay and Northern blot analysis, the ability of all proteins encoded by CLCuMV and CLCuMB were assessed for their ability to suppress RNAi and the relative strengths of their suppression activity were compared. The analysis showed that the V2, C2, C4, and ?C1 proteins exhibited suppressor activity, with the V2 showing the strongest activity. In addition, V2, C4, and ?C1 were examined for their ability to bind RNA and shown to have distinct specificities. Although each of these proteins has, for other begomoviruses or betasatellites, been previously shown to have suppressor activity, this is the first time all proteins encoded by a geminiviruses (or begomovirus-betasatellite complex) have been examined and also the first for which four separate suppressors have been identified.