Atomic force microscopic investigation of respiratory syncytial virus infection in HEp-2 cells



Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) primarily causes bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants. In spite of intense research, no safe and effective vaccine has been developed yet. For understanding its pathogenesis and development of anti-RSV drugs/therapeutics, it is indispensable to study the RSV–host interaction. Although, there are limited studies using electron microscopy to elucidate the infection process of RSV, to our knowledge, no study has reported the morphological impact of RSV infection using atomic force microscopy. We report the cytoplasmic and nuclear changes in human epidermoid cell line type 2 using atomic force microscopy. Human epidermoid cell line type 2 cells, grown on cover slips, were infected with RSV and fixed after various time periods, processed and observed for morphological changes using atomic force microscopy. RSV infected cells showed loss of membrane integrity, with degeneration in the cellular content and cytoskeleton. Nuclear membrane was disintegrated and nuclear volume was decreased. The chromatin of the RSV infected cells was condensed, progressing towards degeneration via pyknosis and apoptosis. Membrane protrusions of ∼150–200 nm diameter were observed on RSV infected cells after 6 h, suggestive of prospective RSV budding sites. To our knowledge, this is the first study of RSV infection process using atomic force microscopy. Such morphological studies could help explore viral infection process aiding the development of anti-RSV therapies.