Visualization of plant viral suppressor silencing activity in intact leaf lamina by quantitative fluorescent imaging

Stephan, Dirk ; Slabber, Coba ; George, Gavin ; Ninov, Victor ; Francis, Kevin P. ; Burger, Johan T. (2011-08)

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

The original publication is available at


ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Transient expression of proteins in plants has become a favoured method over the production of stably transformed plants because, in addition to enabling high protein yields, it is both fast and easy to apply. An enhancement of transient protein expression can be achieved by plant virus-encoded RNA silencing suppressor proteins. Since viral suppressor proteins differ in their efficiency to enhance transient protein expression in plants, we developed a whole-leaf green fluorescent protein (GFP)-based imaging assay to quantitatively assess suppressor protein activity. RESULTS: In a transient GFP-expression assay using wild-type and GFP-transgenic N. benthamiana, addition of the plant viral suppressors Beet mild yellowing virus (BMYV-IPP) P0 or Plum pox virus (PPV) HC-Pro was shown to increase fluorescent protein expression 3-4-fold, 7 days post inoculation (dpi) when compared to control plants. In contrast, in agroinfiltrated patches without suppressor activity, near complete silencing of the GFP transgene was observed in the transgenic N. benthamiana at 21 dpi. Both co-infiltrated suppressors significantly enhanced GFP expression over time, with HC-Pro co-infiltrations leading to higher short term GFP fluorescence (at 7 dpi) and P0 giving higher long term GFP fluorescence (at 21 dpi). Additionally, in contrast to HC-Pro co-infiltrations, an area of complete GFP silencing was observed at the edge of P0 co-infiltrated areas. CONCLUSIONS: Fluorescence imaging of whole intact leaves proved to be an easy and effective method for spatially and quantitatively observing viral suppressor efficiency in plants. This suppressor assay demonstrates that plant viral suppressors greatly enhanced transient GFP expression, with P0 showing a more prolonged suppressor activity over time than HC-Pro. Both suppressors could prove to be ideal candidates for enhancing target protein expression in plants.

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