The effect of polycations on cultured mouse peitoneal macrophages has been examined. Polycations, at concentrations greater than 5 µg/ml, are toxic for macrophages) as measured by failure of the cells to exclude vital dyes. At toxic concentrations polycations bind in large amounts to nuclei and endoplasmic reticulum, while at nontoxic levels polycations bind selectively to the cell surface. Nontoxic concentrations of polycations stimulate binding of reovirus double-stranded (ds) RNA to the macrophages by forming polycation-dsRNA complexes either in the medium or at the cell surface. These complexes enter the cell in endocytic vacuoles and are concentrated in secondary lysosomes. Despite exposure to the acid hydrolases within this cell compartment, the dsRNA and the polycation (poly-L-lysine) are conserved in a macromolecular form within the vacuolar system. The mechanism(s) by which the uptake of infectious nucleic acids and the induction of interferon by dsRNA are stimulated by polycations are discussed.

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