Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Since the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, there have been intense structural studies on purified recombinant viral components and inactivated viruses. However, investigation of the SARS-CoV-2 infection in the native cellular context is scarce, and there is a lack of comprehensive knowledge on SARS-CoV-2 replicative cycle. Understanding the genome replication, assembly and egress of SARS-CoV-2, a multistage process that involves different cellular compartments and the activity of many viral and cellular proteins, is critically important as it bears the means of medical intervention to stop infection. Here, we investigated SARS-CoV-2 replication in Vero cells under the near-native frozen-hydrated condition using a unique correlative multi-modal, multi-scale cryo-imaging approach combining soft X-ray cryo-tomography and serial cryoFIB/SEM volume imaging of the entire SARS-CoV-2 infected cell with cryo-electron tomography (cryoET) of cellular lamellae and cell periphery, as well as structure determination of viral components by subtomogram averaging. Our results reveal at the whole cell level profound cytopathic effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection, exemplified by a large amount of heterogeneous vesicles in the cytoplasm for RNA synthesis and virus assembly, formation of membrane tunnels through which viruses exit, and drastic cytoplasm invasion into nucleus. Furthermore, cryoET of cell lamellae reveals how viral RNAs are transported from double-membrane vesicles where they are synthesized to viral assembly sites; how viral spikes and RNPs assist in virus assembly and budding; and how fully assembled virus particles exit the cell, thus stablishing a model of SARS-CoV-2 genome replication, virus assembly and egress pathways.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date