Functional analysis of a plant virus replication ‘factory’ using live cell imaging
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Plant viruses have developed a number of strategies that enable them to become obligate intracellular parasites of many agricultural crops. Potato virus X (PVX) belongs to a group of positive-sense, single-stranded plant RNA viruses that replicate on host membranes and form elaborate structures known as viral replication complexes (VRCs) that contain viral RNA (vRNA), proteins and host cellular components. VRCs are the principal sites of viral genome replication, virion assembly and packaging of vRNA for export into neighbouring cells. For many animal viruses, host membrane association is crucial for RNA export. For plant viruses, it is not yet known how vRNA is transported to and through plant plasmodesmata. PVX encodes genetic information required for its movement between cells; three viral triple gene block (TGB) movement proteins and a viral coat protein are essential for viral trafficking. This research project studies the relationship between PVX and its host plants, Nicotiana benthamina and Nicotiana tabacum. A particular focus of this project is exploration of the structural and functional significance of the PVX VRC and how the virus recruits cell host components for its replication and movement between cells. The role of specific viral proteins in establishing the VRC, and the ways in which these interact with host organelles, was investigated. A combination of different approaches was used, including RNA-binding dyes and a Pumilio-based bimolecular fluorescence complementation assay for detection of the vRNA, fluorescent reporters for virusencoded proteins, fluorescent reporters for host organelles involved in viral replication, and also transgenic tobacco plants expressing reporters for specific plant components (endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi, actin, microtubules and plasmodesmata). In addition, mutagenesis was used to study the functions of individual viral proteins in replication and movement. All of these approaches were combined to achieve live-cell imaging of the PVX infection process. The PVX VRC was shown to be a highly compartmentalised structure; (+)-stranded vRNA was concentrated around the viral TGB1 protein, which was localised in discrete circular compartments within the VRC while coat protein was localised to the external edges of the VRC. The vRNA was closely associated with host components (endoplasmic reticulum and actin) shown to be involved in the formation of the VRC. The TGB2/TGB3 viral proteins were shown to colocalise with the host endomembranes (ER) and to exit these compartments in the form of motile granules. vRNA, TGB1, TGB2 and CP localised to plasmodesmata of the infected cells. TGB1 was shown to move cell-to-cell and recruit ER, Golgi and actin in the absence of viral infection. In the presence of virus, TGB1 targeted the VRCs in several neighbouring cells. A model of PVX replication and movement is proposed in which TGB1 functions as a key component for recruitment of host components into the VRC to enable viral replication and spread.