If you have been following the results of my experiments on inhibition of rhinovirus replication by ZnCl2, you know that I’ve been trying to determine why concentrations of the salt higher than 0.1 mM are toxic to HeLa cells. I have found that 0.1 mM ZnCl2 does inhibit rhinovirus plaque formation but not sufficiently to be able to select resistant mutants. In today’s set of experiments I asked whether the presence of MgCl2 in the agar overlay potentiates zinc toxicity.
We always include MgCl2 (40 mM) in the agar overlay when assaying rhinoviruses, because it significantly improves plaque size. The following monolayers of HeLa cells were inoculated with 200 plaque-forming units of rhinovirus type 1a, then incubated at 32°C for 5 days. The effect of MgCl2 is remarkable.
The use of MgCl2 to improve plaque formation of certain picornaviruses dates to the 1962 observation that the salt increases susceptibility of cells to poliovirus infection. It was later shown to enhance plaque formation of rhinoviruses.
Unfortunately, omission of MgCl2 from the agar overlay has no effect on zinc toxicity. As shown below, cell viability was still poor in the presence of 0.2 mM ZnCl2.
What’s next? One reader suggested that I try selecting HeLa cells in successively higher concentrations of ZnCl2 to obtain cells resistant to the toxic effects of the salt. This approach is under way. I will also attempt to propagate rhinovirus in cells covered with liquid growth medium rather than under agar. If 0.1 mM ZnCl2 is included in the culture medium, a good fraction of the viruses produced might be resistant to the salt. The virus produced in these infected cells will be used to infect fresh cells, also in culture medium with ZnCl2. After 5-10 passages in this manner the majority of the viral population should be resistant to ZnCl2. This is a more time consuming approach that the plaque assay, but might yield zinc resistant rhinovirus mutants.
Wallis, C., & Melnick, J. (1962). Magnesium chloride enhancement of cell susceptibility to poliovirus. Virology, 16 (2), 122-132 DOI: 10.1016/0042-6822(62)90287-8
Fiala M, & Kenny GE (1966). Enhancement of rhinovirus plaque formation in human heteroploid cell cultures by magnesium and calcium. Journal of bacteriology, 92 (6), 1710-5 PMID: 4289358