SV40 infection of cells (ATCC, CCL: 157) resulted in abortive transformation with formation of T antigen and induction of cellular DNA replication in the absence of virus production. These cells were resistant to stable transformation by SV40 regardless of the route of infection, including microinjection of virus into cell nuclei. The present studies show that T antigen-containing cells persist and that the number of T antigen-positive cells remains constant in infected cultures, which is reflected in the nearly constant fraction of T antigen-positive cells in stationary cultures and a decrease of the fraction of T antigen-positive cells in proliferating cultures. These data suggest that following cell division only one daughter cell on the average can maintain a detectable level of T antigen. The cell cycle kinetics of proliferating muntjac cultures were not altered by the abortively transforming infection, and infectious progeny was made following cell fusion with permissive CV-1 cells. It is suggested that the few copies of viral DNA that do persist are present in a ‘plasmid-like’ state as non-integrated DNA. In this way SV40 can appear to be lost from the majority of the cells in a culture but actually be conserved in a small population of cells for a long time. In such a state a papovavirus might go undetected as well as by even the most sensitive immunological and molecular techniques.


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