Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) uses recombinant viruses to study gene function; however, the effect of the virus vector itself on the gene expression of the host is not always considered. In our work, we investigated non-targeted gene expression changes of the host in order to see how often these changes appear. Effects of various VIGS vector infections were analysed by monitoring gene expression levels of housekeeping genes by Northern blot analysis in four different hosts. We found that non-targeted changes happens very often. More importantly, these non-targeted effects can cause drastic changes in the gene-expression pattern of host genes that are usually used as references in these studies. We have also found that in a tobacco rattle virus (TRV)-based VIGS, the presence of foreign sequences in the cloning site of the vector can also have a non-targeted effect, and even the use of an internal control can lead to unpredicted changes. Our results show that although VIGS is a very powerful technique, the VIGS vector, as a pathogen of the host, can cause unwanted changes in its gene-expression pattern, highlighting the importance of careful selection of both the genes to be tested and those to be used as references in the planned experiments.
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