Plant Virus Movement


Plant virus movement is the process of the spread of virus genetic material from the initially infected cells to the rest of the plant. There are several distinct stages including intracellular movement from sites of virus replication to plasmodesmata (PD) (plant‐specific intercellular nanopores), cell‐to‐cell trafficking through PD and long‐distance movement between organs through the phloem (the specialized vascular system used by plants for the transport of assimilates and macromolecules). Transport is mediated by virus‐encoded ‘movement’ proteins. Several different types of movement proteins can be distinguished, which share properties such as nucleic acid binding, targeting and dilation of PD, and intercellular movement. These functions can be distributed amongst several movement proteins. Some movement proteins form a hollow tubule through PD which allows the passage of virus particles, but for the majority of viruses, the precise mechanism of transport through PD is still unknown.

Key Concepts:

  • Plant viruses need to overcome the barrier of the cell wall to spread from the initially infected cells to the rest of the plant.

  • Local cell‐to‐cell movement occurs through PD which are plant‐specific membrane‐lined nanopores that connect adjoining cells.

  • Long‐distance movement between plant organs occurs through the phloem, one of the two components of the plant's vasculature.

  • Viral cell‐to‐cell movement constitutes an extreme population bottleneck and needs to stay ahead of plant defence signals trafficking through the same channels.

  • Movement is mediated by one or several virus‐encoded movement proteins, which facilitate transport of virus genomes or virus particles between cells.

  • The transported form of the viral genome is usually either a virus particle that can be modified, or a nonvirion ribonucleoprotein complex containing RNA and movement proteins. Local and long‐distance movement forms can be different.

  • Two different movement mechanisms are observed: insertion of a MP‐comprised tubule into PD that forms a conduit for virus particles, or tubule‐less movement by an unknown mechanism.

  • Mechanisms contributing to PD dilation may include breakdown of the polysaccharide callose in the surrounding cell wall and severing of actin filaments.

  • Viruses use elements of the cell's cytoskeleton and/or endomembrane system to get from replication sites to PD, or replication and movement can be spatially linked at PD.

  • Nuclear host factors are required for long‐distance movement of some viruses.

Keywords: movement proteins; systemic infection; ribonucleoprotein particles; RNA binding; triple gene block; tubules

Figure 1.

(a) The two modes of plant virus movement: 1 – local cell‐to‐cell movement through plasmodesmata; 2 – systemic long‐distance movement through the phloem. (b,c) Electron micrographs showing longitudinal section of PD and cross‐section of the vascular system of Nicotiana benthamiana, routes of cell‐to‐cell and long‐distance virus movement, respectively. (b) Paired PD span cell wall (CW) linking the cytoplasm of two neighbouring cells. Bar, 0.4 μm (courtesy of Karl Oparka, Ian Roberts and Alison Roberts). (c) Typical section of class V vein showing bundle sheath (BS) cells, xylem parenchyma (XP) cell, xylem vessel and different types of phloem‐associated cells: phloem parenchyma (PP), companion cells (CC) and sieve elements (SE). Bar, 2 μm. M. Taliansky (unpublished).

Figure 2.

A Cowpea mosaic virus MP tubule containing virions traversing a plasmodesma and extending into the cytoplasm of the neighbouring cell. Courtesy of Jan van Lent and Joan Wellink, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.



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Further Reading

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Tilsner J, Amari K and Torrance L (2011) Plasmodesmata viewed as specialised membrane adhesion sites. Protoplasma 248: 39–60.

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Tilsner, Jens, Taliansky, Michael E, and Torrance, Lesley(Jun 2014) Plant Virus Movement. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020711.pub2]