Visualization of Early RNA Replication Kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 by Using Single Molecule RNA-FISH Combined with Immunofluorescence

Rajiv Pathak, Carolina Eliscovich, Ignacio Mena, Anastasija Cupic, Magdalena Rutkowska, Kartik Chandran, Rohit K. Jangra, Adolfo García-Sastre, Robert H. Singer, Ganjam V. Kalpana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


SARS-CoV-2 infection remains a global burden. Despite intensive research, the mechanism and dynamics of early viral replication are not completely understood, such as the kinetics of the formation of genomic RNA (gRNA), sub-genomic RNA (sgRNA), and replication centers/organelles (ROs). We employed single-molecule RNA-fluorescence in situ hybridization (smRNA-FISH) to simultaneously detect viral gRNA and sgRNA and immunofluorescence to detect nsp3 protein, a marker for the formation of RO, and carried out a time-course analysis. We found that single molecules of gRNA are visible within the cytoplasm at 30 min post infection (p.i.). Starting from 2 h p.i., most of the viral RNA existed in clusters/speckles, some of which were surrounded by single molecules of sgRNA. These speckles associated with nsp3 protein starting at 3 h p.i., indicating that these were precursors to ROs. Furthermore, RNA replication was asynchronous, as cells with RNA at all stages of replication were found at any given time point. Our probes detected the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, and also suggested that the BA.1 strain exhibited a slower rate of replication kinetics than the WA1 strain. Our results provide insights into the kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 early post-entry events, which will facilitate identification of new therapeutic targets for early-stage replication to combat COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Article number262
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • COVID-19
  • Immunofluorescence (IF)
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • genomic and sub-genomic RNA replication
  • nsp12
  • nsp3
  • replication organelles (ROs)
  • single molecule RNA-fluorescence in situ hybridization (smRNA-FISH)
  • spike
  • variants of concern (VOCs)


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