Influenza a virus uses intercellular connections to spread to neighboring cells

Kari L. Roberts, Balaji Manicassamy, Robert A. Lamb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


In the extracellular environment, cell-free virions seek out naive host cells over long distances and between organisms. This is the primary mechanism of spread for most viruses. Here we provide evidence for an alternative pathway previously undescribed for orthomyxoviruses, whereby the spread of influenza A virus (IAV) infectious cores to neighboring cells can occur within intercellular connections. The formation of these connections requires actin dynamics and is enhanced by viral infection. Connected cells have contiguous membranes, and the core infectious viral machinery (RNP and polymerase) was present inside the intercellular connections. A live-cell movie of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged NS1 of IAV shows viral protein moving from one cell to another through an intercellular connection. The movement of tagged protein was saltatory but overall traveled only in one direction. Infectious virus cores can move from one cell to another without budding and release of cell-free virions, as evidenced by the finding that whereas a neuraminidase inhibitor alone did not inhibit the development of IAV microplaques, the presence of a neuraminidase inhibitor together with drugs inhibiting actin dynamics or the microtubule stabilizer paclitaxel (originally named taxol) precluded microplaque formation. Similar results were also observed with parainfluenza virus 5 (PIV5), a paramyxovirus, when neutralizing antibody was used to block spread by cell-free virions. Intercellular spread of infectious core particles was unaffected or enhanced in the presence of nocodazole for IAV but inhibited for PIV5. The intercellular connections have a core of filamentous actin, which hints toward transport of virus particles through the use of a myosin motor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1537-1549
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Virology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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