Growth of an RNA virus in single cells reveals a broad fitness distribution

Virology. 2009 Mar 1;385(1):39-46. doi: 10.1016/j.virol.2008.10.031. Epub 2008 Dec 13.


Genetic and environmental factors will influence the growth of an RNA virus, but their relative contributions are challenging to resolve because standard culture methods mask how virus particles interact with individual host cells. Here, single particles of vesicular stomatitis virus, a prototype RNA virus, were used to infect individual BHK cells. Infected cells produced 50 to 8000 progeny virus particles, but these differences were lost upon subsequent culture, suggesting the diversity of yields reflected cell-to-cell differences rather than viral genetic variation. Cells infected at different phases of their cell cycle produced from 1400 (early S) to 8700 (G(2)M) infectious virus particles, coinciding with the middle-to-upper range of the observed distribution. Fluctuations in virus and cell compositions and noisy gene expression may also contribute to the broad distribution of virus yields. These findings take a step toward quantifying how environmental variation can impact the fitness distribution of an RNA virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Line
  • Cricetinae
  • RNA, Viral / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Rhabdoviridae Infections / virology*
  • Vesiculovirus / growth & development*
  • Virus Replication / physiology*


  • RNA, Viral