Imaging of the alphavirus capsid protein during virus replication

Yan Zheng, Margaret Kielian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Alphaviruses are enveloped viruses with highly organized structures. The nucleocapsid (NC) core contains a capsid protein lattice enclosing the plus-sense RNA genome, and it is surrounded by a lipid bilayer containing a lattice of the E1 and E2 envelope glycoproteins. Capsid protein is synthesized in the cytoplasm and particle budding occurs at the plasma membrane (PM), but the traffic and assembly of viral components and the exit of virions from host cells are not well understood. To visualize the dynamics of capsid protein during infection, we developed a Sindbis virus infectious clone tagged with a tetracysteine motif. Tagged capsid protein could be fluorescently labeled with biarsenical dyes in living cells without effects on virus growth, morphology, or protein distribution. Live cell imaging and colocalization experiments defined distinct groups of capsid foci in infected cells. We observed highly motile internal puncta that colocalized with E2 protein, which may represent the transport machinery that capsid protein uses to reach the PM. Capsid was also found in larger nonmotile internal structures that colocalized with cellular G3BP and viral nsP3. Thus, capsid may play an unforeseen role in these previously observed G3BP-positive foci, such as regulation of cellular stress granules. Capsid puncta were also observed at the PM. These puncta colocalized with E2 and recruited newly synthesized capsid protein; thus, they may be sites of virus assembly and egress. Together, our studies provide the first dynamic views of the alphavirus capsid protein in living cells and a system to define detailed mechanisms during alphavirus infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9579-9589
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number17
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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