Molecular Plant Pathology – Pathogen Profiles

Alfalfa mosaic virus: coat protein-dependent initiation of infection

John F. Bol

Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, Gorlaeus Laboratories, Leiden University, PO Box 9502, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands

Taxonomy:Alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV) is the type species of the genus Alfamovirus and belongs to the family Bromoviridae. In this family, the tripartite RNA genomes of bromo-, cucumo- and probably oleaviruses are infectious as such, whereas infection with the three genomic RNAs of alfamo- and ilarviruses requires addition to the inoculum of a few molecules of coat protein (CP) per RNA molecule. RNAs 1 and 2 encode the replicase proteins P1 and P2, RNA 3 encodes the movement protein and CP. CP is translated from the subgenomic RNA 4.

Physical properties:RNAs 1 (3.65 kb), 2 (2.6 kb) and 3 (2.2 kb) are separately encapsidated into bacilliform particles which are 19 nm wide and 35-56 nm long. In addition, the virus preparations contain spheroidal particles each containing two copies of RNA 4 (0.88 kb). Virus particles contain 16-17% RNA and are mainly stabilized by protein-RNA interactions. The 3′-termini of the viral RNAs contain a homologous sequence of 145 nucleotides that can adopt two alternative conformations: one represents a high-affinity binding site for CP, the other resembles a tRNA-like structure and is required for minus-strand promoter activity.

Hosts:AMV mostly infects herbaceous plants, but several woody species are included in the natural host range. The experimental and natural host ranges include over 600 species in 70 families. At least 15 aphid species are known to transmit the virus in the stylet-borne or non-persistent manner.

Economic importance: AMV is a significant pathogen in alfalfa and sweet clover and can spread from these forages to neighbouring crops like pepper, tobacco or soybean. The recent introduction of the soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) in the mid-west states of the USA has increased the incidence of AMV in soybean. AMV occurs world-wide in potato and is referred to as ‘calico mosaic’ because of its characteristic symptoms on the foliage. However, the economic importance of AMV in potato is limited.