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Virology. 2000 Jan 5;266(1):157-69.

A cytopathic and a cell culture adapted hepatitis A virus strain differ in cell killing but not in intracellular membrane rearrangements.

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Institute for Medical Microbiology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


Aside from a common gene organization shared with other picornaviruses, hepatitis A virus (HAV) is characterized by its slow-growth phenotype, the inability to shut off host macromolecular synthesis, and, in general, lack of cytopathic (cp) effects in permissive cell cultures. Nevertheless, several cp HAV strains have been isolated during the past decade. In FRhK-4 cells infected with HM175/24a, a fast-growing cp strain, increasing amounts of viral RNA, detected by fluorescence in situ hybridization, indicated viral RNA replication. An ultrastructural analysis of the infected cells revealed a tubular-vesicular network in close proximity to the rough endoplasmic reticulum. Infection of the same cell type with a cell culture adapted (cc) strain, HM175/P35, divulged membrane alterations indistinguishable from the network induced by the cp strain. The overall appearance of the tubular-vesicular network resembles membrane alterations induced by other picornaviruses. However, the shape of the vesicle-like structures is rather oblong and tubular and, thus, seems to be specific for HAV. By electron microscopic immunocytochemistry (IEM), proteins 2B and 2C were found exclusively on the membranes of the network. Proteins expressed from the open reading frame of the cc HAV variant or 2B proteins originating from HM175 cp, cc, or the wt strain expressed in the absence of other HAV proteins induced membrane alterations resembling those seen in HAV-infected cells. The induction of similar structures suggests that protein 2B is involved in the rearrangement of cellular membranes. In all cases, IEM demonstrated that the 2B protein was closely associated with altered membranes. The extent of membrane changes did not seem to increase for both the cp strain and the cc strain during the infectious cycle. Late in the infection and shortly before the culture died off, a large number of cells infected with HM175/24a showed typical signs of apoptosis, whereas the cc strain did not induce cell killing in the same type of cells. Therefore, we conclude that cell death in HM175/24a-infected cells is induced by apoptosis rather than by cytopathology.

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