"Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a human alphaherpesvirus that causes varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster (shingles). Like all herpesviruses, the VZV DNA genome is replicated in the nucleus and packaged into nucleocapsids that must egress across the nuclear membrane for incorporation into virus particles in the cytoplasm. Our recent work showed that VZV nucleocapsids are sequestered in nuclear cages formed from promyelocytic leukemia protein (PML) in vitro and in human dorsal root ganglia and skin xenografts in vivo. We sought a method to determine the three-dimensional (3D) distribution of nucleocapsids in the nuclei of herpesvirus-infected cells as well as the 3D shape, volume and ultrastructure of these unique PML subnuclear domains. Here we report the development of a novel 3D imaging and reconstruction strategy that we term Serial Section Array-Scanning Electron Microscopy (SSA-SEM) and its application to the analysis of VZV-infected cells and these nuclear PML cages. We show that SSA-SEM permits large volume imaging and 3D reconstruction at a resolution sufficient to localize, count and distinguish different types of VZV nucleocapsids and to visualize complete PML cages. This method allowed a quantitative determination of how many nucleocapsids can be sequestered within individual PML cages (sequestration capacity), what proportion of nucleocapsids are entrapped in single nuclei (sequestration efficiency) and revealed the ultrastructural detail of the PML cages. More than 98% of all nucleocapsids in reconstructed nuclear volumes were contained in PML cages and single PML cages sequestered up to 2,780 nucleocapsids, which were shown by electron tomography to be embedded and cross-linked by an filamentous electron-dense meshwork within these unique subnuclear domains. This SSA-SEM analysis extends our recent characterization of PML cages and provides a proof of concept for this new strategy to investigate events during virion assembly at the single cell level."
This paper is what amounts to a tour de force of structural and cell biology, and represents a very impressive achievement in 3-D image reconstruction at near-cell scale.