The phytoene desaturase (PDS) gene of Nicotiana benthamiana was silenced in plants infected with potato virus X (PVX) vectors carrying PDS inserts, and a green fluorescent protein (GFP) transgene was silenced in plants infected with PVX–GFP. This virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) is post-transcriptional and cytoplasmic because it is targeted against exons rather than introns of PDS RNA and against viral RNAs. Although PDS and GFP RNAs are most likely targeted through the same mechanism, the VIGS phenotypes differed in two respects. PDS mRNA was targeted by VIGS in all green tissue of the PVX–PDS—infected plant, whereas PVX–PDS was not affected. In contrast, VIGS of the GFP was targeted against PVX–GFP. Initially, VIGS of the GFP was initiated in all green tissues, as occurred with PDS VIGS. However, after 30 days of infection, the GFP VIGS was no longer initiated in newly emerging leaves, although it was maintained in tissue in which it had already been initiated. Based on these analyses, we propose a model for VIGS in which the initiation of VIGS is dependent on the virus and maintenance of it is virus independent.
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