Despite being composed by a single-stranded, circular, non-protein-coding RNA of just 246–401 nucleotides (nt), viroids can incite in their host plants symptoms similar to those caused by DNA and RNA viruses, which have genomes at least 20-fold bigger and encode proteins. On the other hand, certain non-protein-coding plant satellite RNAs display structural similarities with viroids but for replication and transmission they need to parasitize specific helper viruses (modifying concomitantly the symptoms they induce). While phenotypic alterations accompanying infection by viruses may partly result from expressing the proteins they code for, how the non-protein-coding viroids (and satellite RNAs) cause disease remains a conundrum. Initial ideas on viroid pathogenesis focused on a direct interaction of the genomic RNA with host proteins resulting in their malfunction. With the advent of RNA silencing, it was alternatively proposed that symptoms could be produced by viroid-derived small RNAs (vd-sRNAs) —generated by the host defensive machinery— targeting specific host mRNA or DNA sequences for post-transcriptional or transcriptional gene silencing, respectively, a hypothesis that could also explain pathogenesis of non-protein-coding satellite RNAs. Evidence sustaining this view has been circumstantial, but recent data provide support for it in two cases: i) the yellow symptoms associated with a specific satellite RNA result from a 22-nt small RNA (derived from the 24-nt fragment of the satellite genome harboring the pathogenic determinant), which is complementary to a segment of the mRNA of the chlorophyll biosynthetic gene CHLI and targets it for cleavage by the RNA silencing machinery, and ii) two 21-nt vd-sRNAS containing the pathogenic determinant of the albino phenotype induced by a chloroplast-replicating viroid target for cleavage the mRNA coding for the chloroplastic heat-shock protein 90 via RNA silencing too. This evidence, which is compelling for the satellite RNA, does not exclude alternative mechanisms.
Thanks to: Chimeras, the blog
Via Ed Rybicki