Chrysanthemum chlorotic mottle viroid: unusual structural properties of a subgroup of self-cleaving viroids with hammerhead ribozymes

Author(s): Navarro B, Flores R


The causal agent of chrysanthemum chlorotic mottle (CChM) disease has been identified, cloned, and sequenced. It is a viroid RNA (CChMVd) of 398-399 nucleotides. In vitro transcripts with the complete CChMVd sequence were infectious and induced the typical symptoms of the CChM disease. CChMVd can form hammerhead structures in both polarity strands. Plus and minus monomeric CChMVd RNAs self-cleaved during in vitro transcription and after purification as predicted by these structures, which are stable and most probably act as single hammerhead structures as in peach latent mosaic viroid (PLMVd), but not in avocado sunblotch viroid (ASBVd). Moreover, the plus CChMVd hammerhead structure also appears to be active in vivo, because the 5' terminus of the linear plus CChMVd RNA isolated from infected tissue is that predicted by the corresponding hammerhead ribozyme. Both hammerhead structures of CChMVd display some peculiarities: the plus self-cleaving domain has an unpaired A after the conserved A9 residue, and the minus one has an unusually long helix II. The most stable secondary structure predicted for CChMVd is a branched conformation that does not fulfill the rod-like or quasi-rod-like model proposed for the in vitro structure of most viroids with the exception of PLMVd, whose proposed secondary structure of lowest free energy also is branched. The unusual conformation of CChMVd and PLMVd is supported by their insolubility in 2 M LiCl, in contrast to ASBVd and a series of representative non-self-cleaving viroids that are soluble under the same high salt conditions. These results support the classification of self-cleaving viroids into two subgroups, one formed by ASBVd and the other one by PLMVd and CChMVd.

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