In vivo uncoating and efficient expression of foreign mRNAs packaged in TMV-like particles

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Science  29 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4805, pp. 1122-1124
DOI: 10.1126/science.3472350


The ribonucleocapsids of many plant viruses are extremely stable. The protein coat protects the RNA genome against degradation during the accumulation and spread of progeny virions. Chimeric single-stranded RNA molecules were transcribed in vitro from recombinant plasmids and later encapsidated, in vitro, into ribonucleoprotein particles (pseudoviruses) 60 nanometers long that resembled tobacco mosaic virus. Transcripts encoding an assayable enzyme, chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT), were packaged into pseudovirus particles to assess the utility of this single-stranded RNA delivery system in a wide range of cell types. In all cases, packaged CAT messenger RNA was uncoated and transiently expressed. Significantly higher levels of CAT activity were detected with packaged than with naked CAT messenger RNA after inoculation of plant protoplasts in the presence of polyethylene glycol or abrasive inoculation of intact leaf surfaces. Structural events that lead to the uncoating and expression of CAT messenger RNA showed no cell specificity. This observation may support the view that the comparatively restricted host range of a true plant virus results from events that occur later during the infection cycle.