Infectivity of the West Nile virus (WNV; Flaviviridae) was inactivated on exposure for brief periods (90 s) to pH 6.6 and below. This inactivation was not due to decreased interaction between cells and acid-treated virus. The RNA of [H]uridine-labelled virus particles prebound to the cell surface before acidic pH treatment underwent rapid uncoating within 1 min at 37 °C at the same pH values that inactivated virus particles. The uncoating of [H]uridine-labelled virus particles was also studied over longer time periods after synchronized internalization by P388D1 cells. At pH 7.6 uncoating occurred rapidly after a reproducible time lag of 1 min on warming to 37 °C and was essentially complete by 15 to 30 min after the start of internalization, leaving uncoated RNA in an infectious form. In contrast, at pH 6.2 viral uncoating occurred rapidly without any time lag and the uncoated RNA appeared to be far less infectious than that uncoated at pH 7.6. Ammonium chloride could almost totally inhibit both the infectivity and uncoating of virus particles on synchronized internalization into P388D1 cells, with a pH optimum of 8.0. These results suggest that the uncoating of virus particles is dependent on an acidic pH, although the location of uncoating (prelysosomal endosome or plasma membrane) decides whether the uncoated RNA will be infectious or not. Essentially the same results were obtained when infections were carried out in the presence of enhancing antibody.


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