We have analysed the uptake of influenza C virus and bovine coronavirus (BCV) by a polarized epithelial cell line, Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells. Both viruses use -acetyl-9--acetyl-neuraminic acid as a receptor determinant for attachment to cells. Virus binding assays with immobilized proteins indicated that a glycoprotein of 40 kDa is the major surface protein containing the receptor determinant for the two viruses. MDCK cells grown on filters for permeable support were found to have differential sensitivity to infection by these viruses. Both viruses were able to initiate infection via the apical domain of the plasma membrane, but only influenza C virus also accomplished infection via the basolateral plasma membrane. The resistance of MDCK cells to BCV infection from the basal filter chamber was overcome when the cell polarity was abolished by maintaining the cells in calcium-free medium. This finding indicates that the resistance to basolateral infection by BCV is a property of the cell line and not due to a technical problem related to the use of filters. Our results indicate that two viruses which use the same receptor for attachment to cells may differ in their ability to enter polarized cells. The possible involvement of an accessory molecule in the entry of BCV is discussed.


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