Increasing evidence indicates that the phloem mediates traffic of selective RNAs within a plant. How an RNA enters, moves in, and exits the phloem is poorly understood. Potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd) is a pathogenic RNA that does not encode proteins and is not encapsidated, and yet it replicates autonomously and traffics systemically with an infected plant. The viroid RNA genome must interact directly with cellular factors to accomplish these functions and is, therefore, an excellent probe to study mechanisms that regulate RNA traffic. Our analyses of PSTVd traffic in Nicotiana benthamiana yielded evidence that PSTVd movement within sieve tubes does not simply follow mass flow from source to sink organs. Rather, this RNA is transported into selective sink organs. Furthermore, two PSTVd mutants can enter the phloem to spread systemically but cannot exit the phloem in systemic leaves of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). A viroid most likely has evolved structural motifs that mimic endogenous plant RNA motifs so that they are recognized by cellular factors for traffic. Thus, analysis of PSTVd traffic functions may provide insights about endogenous mechanisms that control phoem entry, transport, and exit of RNAs.
Zhu, Y., Qi, Y., Xun, X., Owens, R., and Ding, B. 2002. Movement of Potato spindle tuber viroid reveals regulatory points of phloem-mediated RNA traffic. Plant Phys. 130, 138-146.. 12, 931-936.