Adventitious Virus Detection in Cells by High-Throughput Sequencing of Newly Synthesized RNAs: Unambiguous Differentiation of Cell Infection from Carryover of Viral Nucleic Acids

Justine Cheval, Erika Muth, Gaëlle Gonzalez, Muriel Coulpier, Pascale Beurdeley, Stéphane Cruveiller, Marc Eloit
Matthew B. Frieman, Editor

The use of high-throughput sequencing (HTS) to identify viruses in biologicals differs from current molecular approaches, since its use enables an unbiased approach to detection without the need to design specific primers to preamplify target sequences. Its broad range of detection and analytical sensitivity make it an important tool to ensure that biologicals are free from adventitious viruses. Similar to other molecular methods, however, identification of viral sequences in cells by HTS does not prove viral infection, since this could reflect carryover of inert viral sequences from reagents or other sources or the presence of transcriptionally inactive cellular sequences. Due to the broad range of detection associated with HTS, the above can potentially be perceived as a drawback for the testing of pharmaceutical biological products using this method. In order to avoid the identification of inert viral sequences, we present a methodology based on metabolic RNA labeling and sequencing, which enables the specific identification of newly synthesized viral RNAs in infected cells, resulting in the ability to unambiguously distinguish active infection by DNA or RNA viruses from inert nucleic acids. In the present study, we report the ability to differentiate Vero cells acutely infected by a single-stranded positive-sense RNA virus (tick-borne encephalitis virus) from cells which have been in contact with nonreplicating virus particles. Additionally, we also found a laboratory contamination by the squirrel monkey retrovirus of our Vero cell line, which was derived from an Old World (African green) monkey, a type of contamination which until now has been identified only in cells derived from primates from the New World.