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Potato virus Y (PVY) is one of the most economically important pathogen of potato that is present as biologically distinct strains. The virus-derived small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs) from potato cv. Russet Burbank individually infected with PVY-N, PVY-NTN and PVY-O strains were recently characterized. Plant defense RNA-silencing mechanisms deployed against viruses produce vsiRNAs to degrade homologous viral transcripts. Based on sequence complementarity, the vsiRNAs can potentially degrade host RNA transcripts raising the prospect of vsiRNAs as pathogenicity determinants in virus-host interactions. This study investigated the global effects of PVY vsiRNAs on the host potato transcriptome. The strain-specific vsiRNAs of PVY, expressed in high copy number, were analyzed in silico for their proclivity to target potato coding and non-coding RNAs using psRobot and psRNATarget algorithms. Functional annotation of target coding transcripts was carried out to predict physiological effects of the vsiRNAs on the potato cv. Russet Burbank. The downregulation of selected target coding transcripts was further validated using qRT-PCR. The vsiRNAs derived from biologically distinct strains of PVY displayed diversity in terms of absolute number, copy number and hotspots for siRNAs on their respective genomes. The vsiRNAs populations were derived with a high frequency from 6 K1, P1 and Hc-Pro for PVY-N, P1, Hc-Pro and P3 for PVY-NTN, and P1, 3′ UTR and NIa for PVY-O genomic regions. The number of vsiRNAs that displayed interaction with potato coding transcripts and number of putative coding target transcripts were comparable between PVY-N and PVY-O, and were relatively higher for PVY-NTN. The most abundant target non-coding RNA transcripts for the strain specific PVY-derived vsiRNAs were found to be MIR821, 28S rRNA,18S rRNA, snoR71, tRNA-Met and U5. Functional annotation and qRT-PCR validation suggested that the vsiRNAs target genes involved in plant hormone signaling, genetic information processing, plant-pathogen interactions, plant defense and stress response processes in potato. The findings suggested that the PVY-derived vsiRNAs could act as a pathogenicity determinant and as a counter-defense strategy to host RNA silencing in PVY-potato interactions. The broad range of host genes targeted by PVY vsiRNAs in infected potato suggests a diverse role for vsiRNAs that includes suppression of host stress responses and developmental processes. The interactome scenario is the first report on the interaction between one of the most important Potyvirus genome-derived siRNAs and the potato transcripts.
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