Infection of mammalian cells with Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) leads generally to the production of virus and cell death. In this paper we examined the fate of Vero cells infected with three strains of RVFV and observed that, while a large proportion of cells exhibited a clear cytopathic effect (CPE), a small but significant fraction did not undergo a lytic infection but was able to proliferate and establish a persistent infection. Several independent RVFV persistently infected cell lines have been established and passaged for more than 1 year after infection with a virulent strain (ZH548) and two attenuated strains (C13 and MP12). Although the viruses used for the primary infection were plaque-purified, we do not know whether defective-interfering particles were responsible for the establishment of the persistent infection. The persistently infected cells became resistant to superinfection with RVFV but not with other viruses and shed low amounts of infectious, lytic and non-lytic virus during a limited number of passages. In all the passages tested, the three genomic segments or related products were synthesized as well as the structural nucleoprotein N and glycoproteins G1 and G2. Abnormal defective RNAs were detected, migrating faster or slower than their respective counterparts. The faster-migrating RNAs were internally deleted, some of them possessing only the very terminal part of the 5′ genomic end.


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