Birnaviridae virus factories show features of liquid-liquid phase separation, and are distinct from paracrystalline arrays of virions observed by electron microscopy

To gain more information about the nature of Birnaviridae virus factories (VFs), we used a recombinant infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) expressing split-GFP11 tagged to the polymerase (VP1) that we have previously shown is a marker for VFs in infected cells expressing GFP1-10. We found that VFs co-localized with 5-ethynyl uridine in the presence of actinomycin, demonstrating they contained newly synthesized viral RNA, and VFs were visible in infected cells that were fixed and permeabilized with digitonin, demonstrating that they were not membrane bound. Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) a region of interest within the VFs occurred rapidly, recovering from approximately 25% to 87% the original intensity over 146 seconds, and VFs were dissolved by 1,6-hexanediol treatment, demonstrating they showed properties consistent with liquid-liquid phase separation. There was a lower co-localization of the VF GFP signal with the capsid protein VP2 (Manders' coefficient (MC) 0.6), compared to VP3 (MC, 0.9), which prompted us to investigate the VF ultrastructure by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). In infected cells, paracrystalline arrays (PAs) of virions were observed in the cytoplasm, as well as discrete electron dense regions. Using correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM), we observed that the electron dense regions correlated with the GFP signal of the VFs, which were distinct from the PAs. In summary, Birnaviridae VFs contain newly synthesized viral RNA, are not bound by a membrane, show properties consistent with liquid-liquid phase separation, and are distinct from the PAs observed by TEM. Importance Members of the Birnaviridae infect birds, fish and insects, and are responsible for diseases of significant economic importance to the poultry industry and aquaculture. Despite their importance, how they replicate in cells remains poorly understood. Here, we show that the Birnaviridae virus factories are not membrane bound, demonstrate properties consistent with liquid-liquid phase separation, and are distinct from the paracrystalline arrays of virions observed by transmission electron microscopy, enhancing our fundamental knowledge of virus replication that could be used to develop strategies to control disease, or optimize their therapeutic application.

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