Defective interfering (DI) RNAs of tombusviruses are short, non-coding, symptom-modulating RNAs originating from the viral genome. The presence of homologous DI RNA in virus infection attenuates the otherwise lethal viral symptoms. Nicotiana benthamiana plants infected with tomato bushy stunt tombusvirus pepper isolate (TBSV-P) show severe symptoms, which culminate in the death of the plant. In contrast, plants co-inoculated with TBSV-P and TBSV-P-derived DI RNA display attenuated symptoms. However, co-inoculation of TBSV-P with heterologous DI RNA, originating from Carnation Italian ringspot tombusvirus results in development of apical necrotic symptoms. To localize the symptom-determining factors on DI RNA genome, chimeras of protective and non-protective DI RNAs have been constructed. All chimeras were biologically active and accumulated to a high level in the presence of helper virus. We identified a 5′ proximal sequence element of the DI RNA as the most important symptom determinant region. However, our results demonstrated that the symptom modulating ability of this region is also influenced by the sequence composition of whole DI RNAs.
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