Analysis of human cytomegalovirus secondary envelopment by advanced electron microscopy


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Electron microscopy (EM) allows visualization of viruses in fixed cells with high resolution. High-pressure freezing for sample fixation in combination with freeze substitution and embedding in resin improves significantly the preservation of cellular structures and specifically of membranes. This advancement allows better visualization of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) morphogenesis occurring at membranes. To obtain comprehensive information on viral phenotypes from ultrastructural images it is important to also quantify morphological phenotypes. This again can be much refined by three-dimensional visualization after serial sectioning. For elucidation of dynamic processes three-dimensional tomography is extremely helpful. We analysed interaction of HCMV particles with host cell membranes during final envelopment. Both wild-type virus and a viral mutant with impaired envelopment were analysed in fibroblasts, but also using in vivo relevant human endothelial cells and macrophages. The quantification of the EM data showed similar ultrastructural phenotypes regarding the envelopment efficiency in the different cell types indicating similar mechanisms in late stages of virus morphogenesis. Furthermore, thorough analysis of the viral assembly complex (AC) – a virus-induced cytosolic structure – by using three-dimensional visualization techniques combined with a quantitative analysis revealed that the events of final envelopment are equally distributed within the AC irrespective of different local membrane composition.