Understanding the genetics underlying host range differences among plant virus strains can provide valuable insights into viral gene functions and virus-host interactions. In this study, we examined viral determinants and mechanisms of differential infection of Zea mays inbred line SDp2 by Wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) isolates. WSMV isolates Sidney 81 (WSMV-S81) and Type (WSMV-T) share 98.7% polyprotein sequence identity but differentially infect SDp2: WSMV-S81 induces a systemic infection, but WSMV-T does not. Coinoculation and sequential inoculation of SDp2 with WSMV-T and/or WSMV-S81 did not affect systemic infection by WSMV-S81, suggesting that WSMV-T does not induce a restrictive defense response but that virus-encoded proteins may be involved in differential infection of SDp2. The viral determinant responsible for strain-specific host range was mapped to the N terminus of coat protein (CP) by systematic exchanges of WSMV-S81 sequences with those of WSMV-T and by reciprocal exchanges of CP or CP codons 1 to 74. Green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged WSMV-S81 with CP or CP residues 1 to 74 from WSMV-T produced similar numbers of infection foci and genomic RNAs and formed virions in inoculated leaves as those produced with WSMV-S81, indicating that failure to infect SDp2 systemically is not due to defects in replication, cell-to-cell movement, or virion assembly. However, these GFP-tagged hybrids showed profound defects in long-distance transport of virus through the phloem. Furthermore, we found that four of the five differing amino acids in the N terminus of CP between the WSMV-S81 and WSMV-T isolates were collectively involved in systemic infection of SDp2. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the N-terminal region of tritimoviral CP functions in host- and strain-specific long-distance movement.
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