We report a fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) assay that allows the visualization of lymphocytic choriomeningitis mammarenavirus (LCMV) genomic RNAs in individual cells. We show that viral S segment genomic and antigenomic RNA, along with viral nucleoprotein, colocalize in subcellular structures we presume to be viral replication factories. These viral RNA structures are highly dynamic during acute infection, with the many small foci seen early coalescing into larger perinuclear foci later in infection. These late-forming perinuclear viral RNA aggregates are located near the cellular microtubule organizing centre and colocalize with the early endosomal marker Rab5c and the viral glycoprotein in a proportion of infected cells. We propose that the virus is using the surface of a cellular membrane-bound organelle as a site for the pre-assembly of viral components, including genomic RNA and viral glycoprotein, prior to their transport to the plasma membrane, where new particles will bud.
Keywords: LCMV; RNA FISH; Rab5c; arenavirus; viral RNA genome; viral replication complex.