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Analysis of Tomato spotted wilt virus NSs protein indicates the importance of the N-terminal domain for avirulence and RNA silencing suppression

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Summary

Recently, Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) nonstructural protein NSs has been identified unambiguously as an avirulence (Avr) determinant for Tomato spotted wilt (Tsw)-based resistance. The observation that NSs from two natural resistance-breaking isolates had lost RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) activity and Avr suggested a link between the two functions. To test this, a large set of NSs mutants was generated by alanine substitutions in NSs from resistance-inducing wild-type strains (NSsRI), amino acid reversions in NSs from resistance-breaking strains (NSsRB), domain deletions and swapping. Testing these mutants for their ability to suppress green fluorescent protein (GFP) silencing and to trigger a Tsw-mediated hypersensitive response (HR) revealed that the two functions can be separated. Changes in the N-terminal domain were found to be detrimental for both activities and indicated the importance of this domain, additionally supported by domain swapping between NSsRI and NSsRB. Swapping domains between the closely related Tospovirus Groundnut ringspot virus (GRSV) NSs and TSWV NSsRI showed that Avr functionality could not simply be transferred between species. Although deletion of the C-terminal domain rendered NSs completely dysfunctional, only a few single-amino-acid mutations in the C-terminus affected both functions. Mutation of a GW/WG motif (position 17/18) rendered NSs completely dysfunctional for RSS and Avr activity, and indicated a putative interaction between NSs and Argonaute 1 (AGO1), and its importance in TSWV virulence and viral counter defence against RNA interference.

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