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Keywords:

  • Caveolae;
  • cell injury;
  • cytopathic changes;
  • kidney;
  • SV40;
  • transplantation

BK virions must enter the host cell and target their genome to the nucleus in order to complete their life cycle. The mechanisms by which the virions accomplish these tasks are not known. In this morphological study we found that BK virions localized beneath the host cell cytoplasmic membrane in 60–70-nm, smooth (non-coated) monopinocytotic vesicles similar to, or consistent with, caveolae. In the cytoplasm, the monopinocytotic vesicles carrying virions appeared to fuse with a system of smooth, vesicles and tubules that communicated with the rough endoplasmic reticulum and was continuous with the Golgi system. Membrane-bound single virions and large tubulo-reticular complexes loaded with virions accumulated in paranuclear locations. Occasional nuclei displayed virions within the perinuclear cisterna in association to the perinuclear viral accumulations. Tubular cells with mature productive infection had large nuclei, distended by daughter virions, whereas they lacked significant numbers of cytoplasmic virions. In addition to virally induced cell necrosis, there was extensive tubular cell damage (apoptosis and necrosis) in morphologically non-infected tubules. The observed ultrastructural interactions between the BK virions and host cells are remarkably similar to viral cell entry and nuclear targeting described for SV40 virus.