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Tombusvirus P19 RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) activity in mammalian cells correlates with charged amino acids that contribute to direct RNA-binding

Xiang Liu, Laurent Houzet and Kuan-Teh Jeang*

Author Affiliations

Molecular Virology Section, Laboratory of Molecular Microbiology, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

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Cell & Bioscience 2012, 2:41  doi:10.1186/2045-3701-2-41

Published: 6 December 2012



Tombusvirus P19 is a protein encoded by tomato bushy stunt virus and related tombusviruses. Earlier studies have demonstrated that P19 is an RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) in plant cells. However, it has not been systematically investigated how P19 suppresses RNA interference in various mammalian cell settings.


We have studied the RSS effect of P19 in mammalian cells, HEK293T, HeLa, and mouse embryonic fibroblasts. We have individually mutated 18 positively charged residues in P19 and found that 6 of these charged residues in P19 reduce its ability to suppress RNA interference. In each case, the reduction of silencing of RNA interference correlated with the reduced ability by these P19 mutants to bind siRNAs (small interfering RNAs).


Our findings characterize a class of RNA-binding proteins that function as RSS moieties. We find a tight correlation between positively charged residues in P19 accounting for siRNA-binding and their RSS activity. Because P19’s activity is conserved in plant and animal cells, we conclude that its RSS function unlikely requires cell type-specific co-factors and likely arises from direct RNA-binding.