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PLoS Pathog. 2007 Nov;3(11):e182.

Processing of nuclear viroids in vivo: an interplay between RNA conformations.

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Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas, CSIC-Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Valencia, Spain


Replication of viroids, small non-protein-coding plant pathogenic RNAs, entails reiterative transcription of their incoming single-stranded circular genomes, to which the (+) polarity is arbitrarily assigned, cleavage of the oligomeric strands of one or both polarities to unit-length, and ligation to circular RNAs. While cleavage in chloroplastic viroids (family Avsunviroidae) is mediated by hammerhead ribozymes, where and how cleavage of oligomeric (+) RNAs of nuclear viroids (family Pospiviroidae) occurs in vivo remains controversial. Previous in vitro data indicated that a hairpin capped by a GAAA tetraloop is the RNA motif directing cleavage and a loop E motif ligation. Here we have re-examined this question in vivo, taking advantage of earlier findings showing that dimeric viroid (+) RNAs of the family Pospiviroidae transgenically expressed in Arabidopsis thaliana are processed correctly. Using this methodology, we have mapped the processing site of three members of this family at equivalent positions of the hairpin I/double-stranded structure that the upper strand and flanking nucleotides of the central conserved region (CCR) can form. More specifically, from the effects of 16 mutations on Citrus exocortis viroid expressed transgenically in A. thaliana, we conclude that the substrate for in vivo cleavage is the conserved double-stranded structure, with hairpin I potentially facilitating the adoption of this structure, whereas ligation is determined by loop E and flanking nucleotides of the two CCR strands. These results have deep implications on the underlying mechanism of both processing reactions, which are most likely catalyzed by enzymes different from those generally assumed: cleavage by a member of the RNase III family, and ligation by an RNA ligase distinct from the only one characterized so far in plants, thus predicting the existence of at least a second plant RNA ligase.

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