Tobacco plants were transformed with genes encoding the tobacco vein mottling potyvirus (TVMV) P1 or P3 protein. When compared with vector-transformed or P1 transgenic lines, seedlings of P3 transgenic lines (except a low expressor line) developed poorly, suggesting a detrimental effect of P3 on the plant. All P1 and P3 transgenic lines were protected against the homologous TVMV strain and showed variable proportions of two resistance phenotypes: asymptomatic plants or symptomatic plants that recovered from infection. The resistance was effective against a high inoculum dose but had a narrow spectrum. The heterologous strain TVMV-S was able to overcome resistance in most P1 lines but did not break the resistance of most P3 lines. No line showed resistance to another potyvirus (potato virus Y) or to potato virus X. These features and the low levels of transgene expression in resistant plants suggest that protection in P1 and P3 lines is RNA-mediated. In contrast with most reports on virus-activated gene silencing, some P3 lines with the predominant 'recovery' phenotype showed silencing of the transgene that was activated at a certain developmental stage of the plant independently of virus infection.


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