In confluent monolayers of the dog kidney epithelial cell line Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) assembly of RNA enveloped viruses reflects the functional polarization of the cells. Thus, influenza, Sendai, and Simian virus 5 bud from the apical (free) surface, while vesicular stomatitis virions (VSV) are assembled at basolateral plasma membrane domains (Rodriguez-Boulan, E., and D.D. Sabatini, 1978, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 75:5071-5075). MDCK cells derived from confluent monolayers by dissociation with trypsin-EDTA and maintained as single cells in spinner medium for 12-20 h before infection, lose their characteristic structural polarity. Furthermore, when these cells were infected with influenza or VSV, virions assembled in a nonpolarized fashion over most of the cell surface. However, when dissociated MDCK cells infected in suspension were sparsely plated on collagen gels to prevent intercellular contact and the formation of junctions, the characteristic polarity of viral budding observed in confluent monolayers was again manifested; i.e., VSV budded preferentially from adherent surfaces and influenza almost exclusively from free surface regions. Similar polarization was observed in cells which became aggregated during incubation in spinner medium: influenza budded from the free surface, while VSV was produced at regions of cell-cell contact. It therefore appears that in isolated epithelial cells attachment to a substrate or to another cell is sufficient to trigger the expression of plasma membrane polarity which is manifested in the asymmetric budding of viruses.

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