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PLoS Pathog. 2016 Dec 6;12(12):e1006082. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006082. eCollection 2016 Dec.

Gene Expression Correlates with the Number of Herpes Viral Genomes Initiating Infection in Single Cells.

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Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology,Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Viral gene expression varies significantly among genetically identical cells. The sources of these variations are not well understood and have been suggested to involve both deterministic host differences and stochastic viral host interactions. For herpesviruses, only a limited number of incoming viral genomes initiate expression and replication in each infected cell. To elucidate the effect of this limited number of productively infecting genomes on viral gene expression in single cells, we constructed a set of fluorescence-expressing genetically tagged herpes recombinants. The number of different barcodes originating from a single cell is a good representative of the number of incoming viral genomes replicating (NOIVGR) in that cell. We identified a positive correlation between the NOIVGR and viral gene expression, as measured by the fluorescent protein expressed from the viral genome. This correlation was identified in three distinct cell-types, although the average NOIVGR per cell differed among these cell-types. Among clonal single cells, high housekeeping gene expression levels are not supportive of high viral gene expression, suggesting specific host determinants effecting viral infection. We developed a model to predict NOIVGR from cellular parameters, which supports the notion that viral gene expression is tightly linked to the NOIVGR in single-cells. Our results support the hypothesis that the stochastic nature of viral infection and host cell determinants contribute together to the variability observed among infected cells.

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