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When rotavirus infects the mature villus tip cells of the small intestine, it encounters a highly polarized epithelium. In order to understand this virus-cell interaction more completely, we utilized a cell culture-adapted rhesus rotavirus (RRV) to infect human intestinal (Caco-2) and Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK-1) polarized epithelial cells grown on a permeable support. Filter-grown Caco-2 cells and MDCK-1 cells, producing a transepithelial resistance of 300 to 500 and greater than 1,000 omega . cm2, respectively, were infected from either the apical or basolateral domain with RRV or Semliki Forest virus. Whereas Semliki Forest virus infection only occurred when input virions had access to the basolateral domain of MDCK-1 or Caco-2 cells, RRV infected MDCK-1 and Caco-2 monolayers in a symmetric manner. The effect of rotavirus infection on monolayer permeability was analyzed by measuring the transepithelial electrical resistance. Rotavirus infection on filter-grown Caco-2 cells caused a transmembrane leak at 18 h postinfection, before the development of the cytopathic effect (CPE) and extensive virus release. Electrical resistance was completely abolished between 24 and 36 h postinfection. Although no CPE could be detected on RRV-infected MDCK cells, the infection caused a transmembrane leak that totally abolished the electrical resistance at 18 to 24 h postinfection. Cell viability and the CPE analysis together with immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence data indicated that the abolishment of resistance across the monolayer was due not to an effect on the plasma membrane of the cells but to an effect on the paracellular pathway limited by tight junctions. Attachment and penetration of rotavirus onto Caco-2 cells caused no measurable transmembrane leak during the first hour of infection.