Defining cell culture conditions to improve human norovirus infectivity assays

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Significant difficulties remain for determining whether human noroviruses (hNoV) recovered from water, food, and environmental samples are infectious. Three-dimensional (3-D) tissue culture of human intestinal cells has shown promise in developing an infectivity assay, but reproducibility, even within a single laboratory, remains problematic. From the literature and our observations, we hypothesized that the common factors that lead to more reproducible hNoV infectivity in vitro requires that the cell line be (1) of human gastrointestinal origin, (2) expresses apical microvilli, and (3) be a positive secretor cell line. The C2BBe1 cell line, which is a brush-border producing clone of Caco-2, meets these three criteria. When challenged with Genogroup II viruses, we observed a 2 Log10 increase in viral RNA titer. A passage experiment with GII viruses showed evidence of the ability to propagate hNoV by both quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and microscopy. In our hands, using 3-D C2BBe1 cells improves reproducibility of the infectivity assay for hNoV, but the assay can still be variable. Two sources of variability include the cells themselves (mixed phenotypes of small and large intestine) and initial titer measurements using qRT-PCR that measures all RNA vs. plaque assays that measure infectious virus.

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