Plaques formed by mutagenized viral populations have elevated co-infection frequencies

Elizabeth R. Aguilera, Andrea K. Erickson, Palmy R. Jesudhasan, Christopher M. Robinson, Julie K. Pfeiffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The plaque assay is a common technique used to measure virus concentrations and is based upon the principle that each plaque represents a single infectious unit. As such, plaque number is expected to correlate linearly with the virus dilution plated and each plaque should be formed by a single founder virus. Here, we examined whether more than one virus can contribute to plaque formation. By using genetic and phenotypic assays with genetically marked polioviruses, we found that multiple parental viruses are present in 5-7% of plaques, even at an extremely low multiplicity of infection. We demonstrated through visual and biophysical assays that, like many viral stocks, our viral stocks contain both single particles and aggregates. These data suggest that aggregated virions are capable of inducing co-infection and chimeric plaque formation. In fact, inducing virion aggregation via exposure to low pH increased co-infection in a flow cytometry-based assay. We hypothesized that plaques generated by viruses with high mutation loads may have higher co-infection frequencies due to fitness restoring processes such as complementation and recombination. Indeed, we found that co-infection frequency correlated with mutation load, with 17% chimeric plaque formation for heavily mutagenized viruses. Importantly, the frequency of chimeric plaques may be underestimated by up to three-fold, since co-infection with the same parental virus cannot be scored in our assay. This work indicates that more than one virus can contribute to plaque formation and that co-infection may assist plaque formation in situations where the amount of genome damage is high.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Feb 13 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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