In-depth characterization of the chikungunya virus replication cycle

J Virol. 2021 Nov 17;JVI0173221. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01732-21. Online ahead of print.


The chikungunya virus has spread globally with a remarkably high attack rate. Infection causes arthralgic sequelae that can last for years. Nevertheless, there are no specific drugs or vaccines to contain the virus. Understanding the biology of the virus, such as its replication cycle, is a powerful tool to identify new drugs and comprehend virus-host interactions. Even though the chikungunya virus has been known for a long time (first described in 1952), many aspects of the replication cycle remain unclear. Furthermore, part of the cycle is based on observations of other alphaviruses. In this study, we used electron and scanning microscopy, as well as biological assays, to analyze and investigate the stages of the chikungunya virus replication cycle. Based on our data, we found other infection cellular activities than those usually described for the chikungunya virus replication cycle, i.e. we show particles enveloping intracellularly without budding in a membrane-delimited morphogenesis area; and we also observed virion release by membrane protrusions. Our work provides novel details regarding the biology of chikungunya virus and fills gaps in our knowledge of its replication cycle. These findings may contribute to a better understanding of virus-host interactions and support the development of antivirals. IMPORTANCE The understanding of virus biology is essential to containing virus dissemination, and exploring the virus replication cycle is a powerful tool to do this. There are many points in the biology of the chikungunya virus that need to be clarified, especially regarding its replication cycle. Our incomplete understanding of chikungunya virus infection stages is based on studies with other alphaviruses. We systematized the chikungunya virus replication cycle using microscopic imaging in the order of infection stages: entry, replication, protein synthesis, assembly/morphogenesis, and release. The imaging evidence shows novel points in the replication cycle of enveloping without budding, as well as particle release by cell membrane protrusion.