RNA silencing plays a key role in antiviral defense as well as in developmental processes in plants and insects. Negative strand RNA viruses such as the plant virus Rice hoja blanca tenuivirus (RHBV) replicate in plants and in their insect transmission vector. Like most plant-infecting viruses, RHBV encodes an RNA silencing suppressor, the NS3 protein, and here it is demonstrated that this protein is capable of suppressing RNA silencing in both plants and insect cells. Biochemical analyses showed that NS3 efficiently binds siRNA as well as miRNA molecules. Binding of NS3 is greatly influenced by the size of small RNA molecules, as 21 nucleotide (nt) siRNA molecules are bound > 100 times more efficiently than 26 nt species. Competition assays suggest that the activity of NS3 is based on binding to siRNAs prior to strand separation during the assembly of the RNA-induced silencing complex. In addition, NS3 has a high affinity for miRNA/miRNA* duplexes, indicating that its activity might also interfere with miRNA-regulated gene expression in both insects and plants.
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