Generation, Amplification, and Titration of Recombinant Respiratory Syncytial Viruses

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The use of recombinant viruses has become crucial in basic or applied virology. Reverse genetics has been proven to be an extremely powerful technology, both to decipher viral replication mechanisms and to study antivirals or provide development platform for vaccines. The construction and manipulation of a reverse genetic system for a negative-strand RNA virus such as a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), however, remains delicate and requires special know-how. The RSV genome is a single-strand, negative-sense RNA of about 15 kb that serves as a template for both viral RNA replication and transcription. Our reverse genetics system uses a cDNA copy of the human RSV long strain genome (HRSV). This cDNA, as well as cDNAs encoding viral proteins of the polymerase complex (L, P, N, and M2-1), are placed in individual expression vectors under T7 polymerase control sequences. The transfection of these elements in BSR-T7/5 cells, which stably express T7 polymerase, allows the cytoplasmic replication and transcription of the recombinant RSV, giving rise to genetically modified virions. A new RSV, which is present at the cell surface and in the culture supernatant of BSRT7/5, is gathered to infect human HEp-2 cells for viral amplification. Two or three rounds of amplification are needed to obtain viral stocks containing 1 x 106 to 1 x 107 plaque-forming units (PFU)/mL. Methods for the optimal harvesting, freezing, and titration of viral stocks are described here in detail. We illustrate the protocol presented here by creating two recombinant viruses respectively expressing free green fluorescent protein (GFP) (RSV-GFP) or viral M2-1 fused to GFP (RSV-M2-1-GFP). We show how to use RSV-GFP to quantify RSV replication and the RSV-M2-1-GFP to visualize viral structures, as well as viral protein dynamics in live cells, by using video microscopy techniques.