Analysis of herpes simplex virus type I nuclear particles by flow cytometry



Flow cytometry has been instrumental to characterize cell populations and examine their inner molecules and processes. In most instances, whole cells are analyzed, and hence, particle size is not an issue. Viruses are 2–3 orders of magnitude smaller than cells so flow cytometry has typically been used to study viral markers within whole infected cells. However, the ability to separate and purify viral particles representing different maturation stages within a viral life cycle would be a useful tool to analyze them in details and characterize the host proteins they associate with. Herpes simplex virus Type 1 is a 250 nm enveloped DNA virus that replicates in the nucleus where it assembles new viral particles called capsids. These capsids eventually travel to the cell surface and are modified along the way, producing several intermediate particles. In the nucleus, three types of stable nonenveloped 125 nm nuclear capsids exist that differ in protein composition and genome content. This includes so-called nuclear C-capsids that are the precursors of mature extracellular virions. We report that we can apply flow cytometry to sort these nuclear C-capsid intermediates by labeling the viral genome with Syto 13, a fluorescent marker that binds to nucleic acids. This is the first time flow cytometry has been used not only to detect but also to purify an intracellular viral maturation intermediate. This opens new research avenues in virology to study capsid assembly, maturation and egress, analyze mutant phenotypes, and define host factors associated with specific viral intermediates. © 2012 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry