It has previously been demonstrated in this laboratory that an influenza virus-like chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) RNA could be expressed in COS-1 cells that synthesized all ten influenza A virus-encoded proteins from recombinant plasmids. It was also shown that supernatant fluids harvested from these cultures contained virus-like particles (VLPs) that could deliver an enclosed CAT RNA to MDCK cells. Here, it is shown that the levels of expression of the reporter gene in the COS-1 and/or MDCK cells can be altered drastically by modifying the concentrations of the recombinant plasmids transfected in the COS-1 cells. Thus, it was observed that overexpression of NS2 reduced CAT expression in COS-1 cells, whereas overexpression of M2 and NS1 proteins dramatically decreased transmission of the CAT RNA to the MDCK cultures. These results are discussed with reference to the roles of these proteins during virus replication. From these experiments, a ratio of transfected plasmids was found that increased the efficiency of the previously described system by 50-100-fold. Under these optimized conditions, it was demonstrated that VLPs can be formed in the absence of neuraminidase expression and that these VLPs remained aggregated to each other and to cell membranes. Moreover, it is shown that CAT RNA transmission was dependent on specific interactions of the ribonucleoprotein complex with other viral structural polypeptides. These data demonstrate the usefulness of this encapsidation-packaging system for the study of different aspects of the influenza virus life-cycle.


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