Performance of methylcellulose and Avicel overlays in plaque and focus assays of Chikungunya virus

Josephine Kimani, George Osanjo, Rosemary Sang, James Ochanda, Francis Mulaa


Background: Chikungunya virus is a re-emerging pathogen that is responsible for Chikungunya fever periodic outbreaks along the Kenyan coast and in other African countries.  Epidemiological data from the World Health Organization show that in 2014-2015, there was a major outbreak of Chikungunya fever in the Americas and Pacific Islands.  Surveillance and correct diagnosis are therefore key in controlling the spread and management of the disease.

Plaque and focus assays are key techniques in viral characterization or quantification, and both assays typically require overlay with gelling polymers to limit the spread of viruses in cell culture.  There are anecdotal reports that Avicel may be superior to methylcellulose in assay of Influenza virus. However, it is unclear whether this would apply to other viruses.

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the performance of methylcellulose and Avicel overlays in plaque and focus assays of Chikungunya virus.

Methods: Confluent Vero cells were seeded in 6- or 96-well plates for plaque and focus assays respectively. Cells were inoculated with serially diluted Chikungunya virus, and incubated to allow adherence of the virus to the cells. The inoculum was removed; replaced with Avicel or methylcellulose overlay at various concentrations and stained with crystal violet or immunostained.  Statistical significance was computed using the Holm-Sidak test.

Results: The size of plaques formed by Chikungunya virus was dependent on the concentration of both Avicel and methylcellulose gels used as overlays, with Avicel overlays giving consistently larger plaques than methylcellulose.  Chikungunya virus formed plaques nearly 2.5 times larger in diameter (2 vs 0.8 mm) with 1.2 % Avicel than with 1.25 % methylcellulose after 60 hr growth.  Plaques formed with Avicel were better defined and easier to count after 48 hr growth period compared to a 60 hr period. However, methycellulose overlays provided smaller, more distinct and better defined foci in focus assays.

Conclusion: Both methylcellulose and Avicel are good overlay media for viral assays. Avicel is marginally better for plaque assays while methylcellulose provides more distinct and easier to count foci in focus assays.

Key words: Chikungunya virus, plaque assay, focus assay, methylcellulose, Avicel


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