Transient expression of engineered reporter RNAs encoding an intron-containing green fluorescent protein (GFP) from a
Potato virus X-based expression vector previously demonstrated the nuclear targeting capability of the 359 nucleotide
Potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd) RNA genome. To further delimit the putative nuclear-targeting signal, PSTVd subgenomic fragments were embedded within the intron, and recombinant reporter RNAs were inoculated onto
Nicotiana benthamiana plants. Appearance of green fluorescence in leaf tissue inoculated with PSTVd-fragment-containing constructs indicated shuttling of the RNA into the nucleus by fragments as short as 80 nucleotides in length. Plant-to-plant variation in the timing of intron removal and subsequent GFP fluorescence was observed; however, earliest and most abundant GFP expression was obtained with constructs containing the conserved hairpin I palindrome structure and embedded upper central conserved region. Our results suggest that this conserved sequence and/or the stem-loop structure it forms is sufficient for import of PSTVd into the nucleus.