Production of Pseudotyped Particles to Study Highly Pathogenic Coronaviruses in a Biosafety Level 2 Setting

J Vis Exp. 2019 Mar 1;(145):10.3791/59010. doi: 10.3791/59010.


The protocol aims to generate coronavirus (CoV) spike (S) fusion protein pseudotyped particles with a murine leukemia virus (MLV) core and luciferase reporter, using a simple transfection procedure of the widely available HEK-293T cell line. Once formed and released from producer cells, these pseudovirions incorporate a luciferase reporter gene. Since they only contain the heterologous coronavirus spike protein on their surface, the particles behave like their native coronavirus counterparts for entry steps. As such, they are the excellent surrogates of native virions for studying viral entry into host cells. Upon successful entry and infection into target cells, the luciferase reporter gets integrated into the host cell genome and is expressed. Using a simple luciferase assay, transduced cells can be easily quantified. An important advantage of the procedure is that it can be performed in biosafety level 2 (BSL-2) facilities instead of BSL-3 facilities required for work with highly pathogenic coronaviruses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Another benefit comes from its versatility as it can be applied to envelope proteins belonging to all three classes of viral fusion proteins, such as the class I influenza hemagglutinin (HA) and Ebola virus glycoprotein (GP), the class II Semliki forest virus E1 protein, or the class III vesicular stomatitis virus G glycoprotein. A limitation of the methodology is that it can only recapitulate virus entry steps mediated by the envelope protein being investigated. For studying other viral life cycle steps, other methods are required. Examples of the many applications these pseudotype particles can be used in include investigation of host cell susceptibility and tropism and testing the effects of virus entry inhibitors to dissect viral entry pathways used.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Containment of Biohazards*
  • Coronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / pathogenicity
  • SARS Virus / pathogenicity
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism
  • Virion / pathogenicity
  • Virus Internalization / drug effects


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus