The fruit bat species Rousettus aegyptiacus was identified as a potential reservoir for the highly pathogenic filovirus Marburg virus. To establish a basis for a molecular understanding of the biology of filoviruses in the reservoir host, we have adapted a set of molecular tools for investigation of filovirus replication in a recently developed cell line, R06E, derived from the species Rousettus aegyptiacus.
Upon infection with Ebola or Marburg viruses, R06E cells produced viral titers comparable to VeroE6 cells, as shown by TCID50 analysis. Electron microscopic analysis of infected cells revealed morphological signs of filovirus infection as described for human- and monkey-derived cell lines. Using R06E cells, we detected an unusually high amount of intracellular viral proteins, which correlated with the accumulation of high numbers of filoviral nucleocapsids in the cytoplasm. We established protocols to produce Marburg infectious virus-like particles from R06E cells, which were then used to infect naïve target cells to investigate primary transcription. This was not possible with other cell lines previously tested. Moreover, we established protocols to reliably rescue recombinant Marburg viruses from R06E cells.
These data indicated that R06E cells are highly suitable to investigate the biology of filoviruses in cells derived from their presumed reservoir.
Marburg virus and several species of Ebola virus are endemic in central Africa and cause sporadic outbreaks in this region with mortality rates of up to 90%. So far, there is no vaccination or therapy available to protect people at risk in these regions. Recently, different fruit bats have been identified as potential reservoirs. One of them is Rousettus aegyptiacus. It seems that within huge bat populations only relatively small numbers are positive for filovirus-specific antibodies or filoviral RNA, a phenomenon that is currently not understood. As a first step towards understanding the biology of filoviruses in bats, we sought to establish a model system to investigate filovirus replication in cells derived from their natural reservoir. Here, we provide the first insights into this topic by monitoring filovirus infection of a Rousettus aegyptiacus derived cell line, R06E. We were able to show that filoviruses propagate well in R06E cells, which can, therefore, be used to investigate replication and transcription of filovirus RNA and to very efficiently perform rescue of recombinant Marburg virus using reverse genetics. These results emphasize the suitability of the newly established bat cell line for filovirus research.