RNA silencing is a conserved surveillance mechanism against invading viruses in plants, which involves the production of virus-derived small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs) that play essential roles in the silencing of viral RNAs and/or specific host transcripts. However, how vsiRNAs function to target viral and/or host transcripts is poorly studied, especially in maize (Zea mays
L.). In this study, a degradome library constructed from Sugarcane mosaic virus
(SCMV)-inoculated maize plants was analyzed to identify the cleavage sites in viral and host transcripts mainly produced by vsiRNAs. The results showed that 42 maize transcripts were possibly cleaved by vsiRNAs, among which several were involved in chloroplast functions and in biotic and abiotic stresses. In addition, more than 3000 cleavage sites possibly produced by vsiRNAs were identified in positive-strand RNAs of SCMV, while there were only four cleavage sites in the negative-strand RNAs. To determine the roles of vsiRNAs in targeting viral RNAs, six vsiRNAs were expressed in maize protoplast based on artificial microRNAs (amiRNAs), of which four could efficiently inhibit the accumulations of SCMV RNAs. These results provide new insights into the genetic manipulation of maize with resistance against virus infection by using amiRNA as a more predictable and useful approach.
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