Viral replication

Viral life cycle

Viral replication is the formation of biological viruses during the infection process in the target host cells. Viruses must first get into the cell before viral replication can occur. From the perspective of the virus, the purpose of viral replication is to allow production and survival of its kind. By generating abundant copies of its genome and packaging these copies into viruses, the virus is able to continue infecting new hosts. Replication between viruses is greatly varied and depends on the type of genes involved in them. Most DNA viruses assemble in the nucleus while most RNA viruses develop solely in cytoplasm.[1]

Viral Production / Replication

Viruses multiply only in living cells. The host cell must provide the energy and synthetic machinery and the low molecular-weight precursors for the synthesis of viral proteins and nucleic acids.[2]

The virus replication occurs in seven stages, namely;

  1. Adsorption,
  2. Entry,
  3. Uncoating,
  4. Transcription / mRNA production,
  5. Synthesis of virus components,
  6. Virion assembly and
  7. Release(Liberation Stage).


The virus attaches itself to the Cell Membrane of the host cell. It then injects it's DNA or RNA into the host to initiate infection.


The cell membrane of the host cell invaginates the virus particle, enclosing it in a pinocytotic vacoule. This protects the cell from antibodies like in the case of the HIV virus.


Cell enzymes (from lysosomes) strip off the virus protein coat. This releases or renders accessible the virus nucleic acid or genome.

Transcription / mRNA production

For some RNA viruses, the infecting RNA produces messenger RNA (mRNA). This is translation of the genome into protein produces. For others with negative stranded RNA and DNA, viruses are produced by transcription then translation.

The mRNA is used to instruct the host cell to make virus components. The virus takes advantage of the existing cell structures to replicate itself.

Synthesis of virus components

The following components are manufactured by the virus through the host's existing organelles:

Virion Assembly

A virion is simply an active or intact virus particle. In this stage, newly synthesized genome(nucleic acid), and proteins are assembled to form new virus particles.

This may take place in the cell's nucleus, cytoplasm, or at plasma membrane for most developed viruses.

Release (Liberation Stage)

The viruses, now being mature are released by either sudden rupture of the cell, or gradual extrusion(budding) of enveloped viruses through the cell membrane.

The new viruses may invade or attack other cells, or remain dormant in the cell.

Baltimore Classification System

Viruses are classed into 7 types of genes, each of which has its own families of viruses, which in turn have differing replication strategies themselves. David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist, devised a system called the Baltimore Classification System to classify different viruses based on their unique replication strategy. There are seven different replication strategies based on this system (Baltimore Class I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII). The seven classes of viruses are listed here briefly and in generalities.[3]

Class 1: Double Stranded DNA Viruses

This type of virus usually must enter the host nucleus before it is able to replicate. Some of these viruses require host cell polymerases to replicate their genome, while others, such as adenoviruses or herpes viruses, encode their own replication factors. However, in either cases, replication of the viral genome is highly dependent on a cellular state permissive to DNA replication and, thus, on the cell cycle. The virus may induce the cell to forcefully undergo cell division, which may lead to transformation of the cell and, ultimately, cancer. An example of a family within this classification is the Adenoviridae

There is only one well-studied example in which a class 1 family of viruses does not replicate within the nucleus. This is the Poxvirus family, which comprises highly pathogenic viruses that infect vertebrates.

Class 2: Single-stranded DNA viruses

Viruses that fall under this category include ones that are not as well-studied, but still do pertain highly to vertebrates. Two examples include the Circoviridae and Parvoviridae. They replicate within the nucleus, and form a double-stranded DNA intermediate during replication. A human Circovirus called TTV is included within this classification and is found in almost all humans, infecting them asymptomatically in nearly every major organ.

Class 3: Double-stranded RNA viruses

Like most viruses with RNA genomes, double-stranded RNA viruses do not rely on host polymerases for replication to the extent that viruses with DNA genomes do. Double-stranded RNA viruses are not as well-studied as other classes. This class includes two major families, the Reoviridae and Birnaviridae. Replication is monocistronic and includes individual, segmented genomes, meaning that each of the genes codes for only one protein, unlike other viruses, which exhibit more complex translation.

Classes 4 & 5: Single-stranded RNA viruses

These viruses consist of two types, however both share the fact that replication is primarily in the cytoplasm, and that replication is not as dependent on the cell cycle as that of DNA viruses. This class of viruses is also one of the most-studied types of viruses, alongside the double-stranded DNA viruses.

Class 4: Single-stranded RNA viruses - Positive-sense

The positive-sense RNA viruses and indeed all genes defined as positive-sense can be directly accessed by host ribosomes to immediately form proteins. These can be divided into two groups, both of which replicate in the cytoplasm:

Examples of this class include the families Coronaviridae, Flaviviridae, and Picornaviridae.

Class 5: Single-stranded RNA viruses - Negative-sense

The negative-sense RNA viruses and indeed all genes defined as negative-sense cannot be directly accessed by host ribosomes to immediately form proteins. Instead, they must be transcribed by viral polymerases into the "readable" complementary positive-sense. These can also be divided into two groups:

Examples in this class include the families Orthomyxoviridae, Paramyxoviridae, Bunyaviridae, Filoviridae, and Rhabdoviridae (which includes rabies).

Class 6: Positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses that replicate through a DNA intermediate

A well-studied family of this class of viruses include the retroviruses. One defining feature is the use of reverse transcriptase to convert the positive-sense RNA into DNA. Instead of using the RNA for templates of proteins, they use DNA to create the templates, which is spliced into the host genome using integrase. Replication can then commence with the help of the host cell's polymerases

Class 7: Double-stranded DNA viruses that replicate through a single-stranded RNA intermediate

This small group of viruses, exemplified by the Hepatitis B virus, have a double-stranded, gapped genome that is subsequently filled in to form a covalently closed circle (ccc DNA) that serves as a template for production of viral mRNAs and a subgenomic RNA. The pregenome RNA serves as template for the viral reverse transcriptase and for production of the DNA genome.


  1. Roberts RJ, "Fish pathology, 3rd Edition" ,Elsevier Health Sciences, 2001.
  2. Geo. F. Brooks, M.D et al. "Jawetz, Melnick & Adelberg's MEDICAL MICROBIOLOGY.pdf, 26th Edition, McGraw Hill, 2013, ISBN 978-0-07-181578-9
  3. N.J. Dimmock et al. "Introduction to Modern Virology, 6th edition." Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
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