Colocalization of Different Influenza Viral RNA Segments in the Cytoplasm before Viral Budding as Shown by Single-molecule Sensitivity FISH Analysis

<div><p>The Influenza A virus genome consists of eight negative sense, single-stranded RNA segments. Although it has been established that most virus particles contain a single copy of each of the eight viral RNAs, the packaging selection mechanism remains poorly understood. Influenza viral RNAs are synthesized in the nucleus, exported into the cytoplasm and travel to the plasma membrane where viral budding and genome packaging occurs. Due to the difficulties in analyzing associated vRNPs while preserving information about their positions within the cell, it has remained unclear how and where during cellular trafficking the viral RNAs of different segments encounter each other. Using a multicolor single-molecule sensitivity fluorescence <i>in situ</i> hybridization (smFISH) approach, we have quantitatively monitored the colocalization of pairs of influenza viral RNAs in infected cells. We found that upon infection, the viral RNAs from the incoming particles travel together until they reach the nucleus. The viral RNAs were then detected in distinct locations in the nucleus; they are then exported individually and initially remain separated in the cytoplasm. At later time points, the different viral RNA segments gather together in the cytoplasm in a microtubule independent manner. Viral RNAs of different identities colocalize at a high frequency when they are associated with Rab11 positive vesicles, suggesting that Rab11 positive organelles may facilitate the association of different viral RNAs. Using engineered influenza viruses lacking the expression of HA or M2 protein, we showed that these viral proteins are not essential for the colocalization of two different viral RNAs in the cytoplasm. In sum, our smFISH results reveal that the viral RNAs travel together in the cytoplasm before their arrival at the plasma membrane budding sites. This newly characterized step of the genome packaging process demonstrates the precise spatiotemporal regulation of the infection cycle.</p></div>