Superinfection exclusion creates spatially distinct influenza virus populations


Interactions between viruses during coinfections can influence viral fitness and population diversity, as seen in the generation of reassortant pandemic influenza A virus (IAV) strains. However, opportunities for interactions between closely related viruses are limited by a process known as superinfection exclusion (SIE), which blocks coinfection shortly after primary infection. Using IAVs, we asked whether SIE, an effect which occurs at the level of individual cells, could limit interactions between populations of viruses as they spread across multiple cells within a host. To address this, we first measured the kinetics of SIE in individual cells by infecting them sequentially with 2 isogenic IAVs, each encoding a different fluorophore. By varying the interval between addition of the 2 IAVs, we showed that early in infection SIE does not prevent coinfection, but that after this initial lag phase the potential for coinfection decreases exponentially. We then asked how the kinetics of SIE onset controlled coinfections as IAVs spread asynchronously across monolayers of cells. We observed that viruses at individual coinfected foci continued to coinfect cells as they spread, because all new infections were of cells that had not yet established SIE. In contrast, viruses spreading towards each other from separately infected foci could only establish minimal regions of coinfection before reaching cells where coinfection was blocked. This created a pattern of separate foci of infection, which was recapitulated in the lungs of infected mice, and which is likely to be applicable to many other viruses that induce SIE. We conclude that the kinetics of SIE onset segregate spreading viral infections into discrete regions, within which interactions between virus populations can occur freely, and between which they are blocked.