An isolate from a patient in the recent severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Singapore was used to infect Vero E6 cells. This study concentrated on the first 30 min of infection. It was discovered that the SARS coronavirus attached, entered, and uncoated the nucleocapsids, all within a 30-min period. At 5 min after infection, several virus particles lined the Vero cell plasma membrane. Virus particles were at various stages of fusion at the cell surface, since entry was not a synchronised process. After entry (10 and 15 min), spherical core particles moved into the cytoplasm within large vacuoles. Quite surprising at such early stages of infection (20 min), a virus-induced change in the infected cells was evident. The induction of myelin-like membrane whorls was obvious within the same vacuoles as the core particles. The significance of this virus-induced change is unknown at this stage. By 25-30 min postinfection (p.i.), the spherical core particles appeared to be disassociating and, in their place, doughnut-shaped electron-dense structures were observed. These could be the virus genomes together with the helical nucleocapsids. They were no longer in large vacuoles but packaged into smaller vacuoles in the cytoplasm, and occasionally in small groups.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.