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Viruses are obligatory intracellular parasites that reprogram host cells upon infection to produce viral progeny. Here, we review recent structural insights into virus-host interactions in bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes unveiled by cellular electron cryo-tomography (cryoET). This advanced three-dimensional imaging technique of vitreous samples in near-native state has matured over the past two decades and proven powerful in revealing molecular mechanisms underlying viral replication. Initial studies were restricted to cell peripheries and typically focused on early infection steps, analyzing surface proteins and viral entry. Recent developments including cryo-thinning techniques, phase-plate imaging, and correlative approaches have been instrumental in also targeting rare events inside infected cells. When combined with advances in dedicated image analyses and processing methods, details of virus assembly and egress at (sub)nanometer resolution were uncovered. Altogether, we provide a historical and technical perspective and discuss future directions and impacts of cryoET for integrative structural cell biology analyses of viruses.

Original publication




Journal article


Annual review of virology

Publication Date





239 - 262


Centre for Structural Systems Biology, Heinrich-Pette-Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology, University of Hamburg, D-22607 Hamburg, Germany; email:


Humans, Viruses, Imaging, Three-Dimensional, Cryoelectron Microscopy, Virus Replication, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Electron Microscope Tomography, Host Microbial Interactions