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J Virol. 2014 Mar;88(5):2611-22. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02305-13. Epub 2013 Dec 18.

Arabidopsis double-stranded RNA binding protein DRB3 participates in methylation-mediated defense against geminiviruses.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, Center for Applied Plant Sciences, and Center for RNA Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.


Arabidopsis encodes five double-stranded RNA binding (DRB) proteins. DRB1 and DRB2 are involved in microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis, while DRB4 functions in cytoplasmic posttranscriptional small interfering RNA (siRNA) pathways. DRB3 and DRB5 are not involved in double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) processing but assist in silencing transcripts targeted by DRB2-associated miRNAs. The goal of this study was to determine which, if any, of the DRB proteins might also participate in a nuclear siRNA pathway that leads to geminivirus genome methylation. Here, we demonstrate that DRB3 functions with Dicer-like 3 (DCL3) and Argonaute 4 (AGO4) in methylation-mediated antiviral defense. Plants employ repressive viral genome methylation as an epigenetic defense against geminiviruses, using an RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) pathway similar to that used to suppress endogenous invasive DNAs such as transposons. Chromatin methylation inhibits virus replication and transcription, and methylation-deficient host plants are hypersusceptible to geminivirus infection. Using a panel of drb mutants, we found that drb3 plants uniquely exhibit a similar hypersensitivity and that viral genome methylation is substantially reduced in drb3 compared to wild-type plants. In addition, like dcl3 and ago4 mutants, drb3 plants fail to recover from infection and cannot accomplish the viral genome hypermethylation that is invariably observed in asymptomatic, recovered tissues. Small RNA analysis, bimolecular fluorescence complementation, and coimmunoprecipitation experiments show that DRB3 acts downstream of siRNA biogenesis and suggest that it associates with DCL3 and AGO4 in distinct subnuclear compartments. These studies reveal that in addition to its previously established role in the miRNA pathway, DRB3 also functions in antiviral RdDM.


Plants use RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) as an epigenetic defense against geminiviruses. RNA silencing pathways in Arabidopsis include five double-stranded RNA binding proteins (DRBs) related to Drosophila R2D2 and mammalian TRBP and PACT. While DRB proteins have defined roles in miRNA and cytoplasmic siRNA pathways, a role in nuclear RdDM was elusive. Here, we used the geminivirus system to show that DRB3 is involved in methylation-mediated antiviral defense. Beginning with a panel of Arabidopsis drb mutants, we demonstrated that drb3 plants uniquely show enhanced susceptibility to geminiviruses. Further, like dcl3 and ago4 mutants, drb3 plants fail to hypermethylate the viral genome, a requirement for host recovery. We also show that DRB3 physically interacts with the RdDM pathway components DCL3 and AGO4 in the nucleus. This work highlights the utility of geminiviruses as models for de novo RdDM and places DRB3 protein in this fundamental epigenetic pathway.

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