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Open Access Open Badges Research article

RNA silencing can explain chlorotic infection patterns on plant leaves

Marian AC Groenenboom* and Paulien Hogeweg

Author Affiliations

Theoretical Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Utrecht, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, the Netherlands

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BMC Systems Biology 2008, 2:105  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-2-105

Published: 30 November 2008



RNA silencing has been implicated in virus symptom development in plants. One common infection symptom in plants is the formation of chlorotic tissue in leaves. Chlorotic and healthy tissue co-occur on a single leaf and form patterns. It has been shown that virus levels in chlorotic tissue are high, while they are low in healthy tissue. Additionally, the presence of siRNAs is confined to the chlorotic spots and the boundaries between healthy and infected tissue. These results strongly indicate that the interaction between virus growth and RNA silencing plays a role in the formation of infection patterns on leaves. However, how RNA silencing leads to the intricate patterns is not known.


Here we elucidate the mechanisms leading to infection patterns and the conditions which lead to the various patterns observed. We present a modeling approach in which we combine intra- and inter-cellular dynamics of RNA silencing and viral growth. We observe that, due to the spread of viruses and the RNA silencing response, parts of the tissue become infected while other parts remain healthy. As is observed in experiments high virus levels coincide with high levels of siRNAs, and siRNAs are also present in the boundaries between infected and healthy tissue. We study how single- and double-stranded cleavage by Dicer and amplification by RNA-dependent RNA polymerase can affect the patterns formed.


This work shows that RNA silencing and virus growth within a cell, and the local spread of virions and siRNAs between cells can explain the heterogeneous spread of virus in leaf tissue, and therewith the observed infection patterns in plants.