Victoria Castro, Ana Joaquina Pérez-Berna, Gema Calvo, Eva Pereiro and Pablo Gastaminza

Plus-strand RNA viruses are proficient at remodelling host cell membranes for optimal viral genome replication and the production of infectious progeny. These ultrastructural alterations result in the formation of viral membranous organelles and may be observed by different imaging techniques, providing nanometric resolution. Guided by confocal and electron microscopy, this study describes the generation of wide-field volumes using cryogenic soft-X-ray tomography (cryo-SXT) on SARS-CoV-2-infected human lung adenocarcinoma cells. Confocal microscopy showed the accumulation of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and nucleocapsid (N) protein in compact perinuclear structures, preferentially found around centrosomes at late stages of the infection. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) showed an accumulation of membranous structures in the vicinity of the infected cell nucleus, forming a viral replication organelle containing characteristic double-membrane vesicles and virus-like particles within larger vesicular structures. Cryo-SXT revealed viral replication organelles very similar to those observed by TEM but indicated that the vesicular organelle observed in TEM sections is indeed a vesiculo-tubular network that is enlarged and elongated at late stages of the infection. Overall, our data provide additional insight into the molecular architecture of the SARS-CoV-2 replication organelle.

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