Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) stocks isolated from two persistently infected mouse L-cell lines (designated VSV-PI stocks) express an altered phenotype of RNA synthesis. This phenotype is different from the RNA synthesis phenotype expressed by the viruses used to initiate the persistently infected lines, wild-type VSV and VSV ts-0-23 (a group III, ts-, RNA+ mutant). At 34 and 37 degrees C in L cells productively infected with VSV-PI stocks derived from the two cell lines, transcription of virus mRNA was significantly reduced, whereas replication of the 40S genomic RNA species was enhanced compared with wild-type VSV or ts-0-23. At 34 and 37 degrees C, both VSV-PI stocks replicated with equal or greater efficiency than wild-type VSV; 37 degrees C was the temperature at which the persistently infected cultures were maintained. At 40 degrees C, both VSV-PI stocks were temperature sensitive, and clonal VSV-PI isolates from both cell lines belong to complementation group I (RNA-). Standard ts- mutants (derived by mutagenesis of wild-type VSV) belonging to RNA- complementation groups I, II, and IV do not express the VSV-PI RNA synthesis phenotype at the permissive temperature, making this phenotype distinctive to persistent infection. Since the two VSV-PI populations from persistently infected cell lines initiated with different viruses both evolved this unique phenotype of RNA synthesis, the expression of this phenotype may play an important role in the maintenance of persistence
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