Chikungunya virus (CHIKV), a mosquito-borne alphavirus, causes febrile disease, muscle and joint pain, which can become chronic in some individuals. The non-structural protein 3 (nsP3) plays essential roles during infection, but a complete understanding of its function is lacking. Here we used a microscopy-based approach to image CHIKV nsP3 inside human cells. The SNAP system consists of a self-labelling enzyme tag, which catalyses the covalent linking of exogenously supplemented synthetic ligands. Genetic insertion of this tag resulted in viable replicons and specific labelling while preserving the effect of nsP3 on stress granule responses and co-localisation with GTPase Activating Protein (SH3 domain) Binding Proteins (G3BPs). With sub-diffraction, three-dimensional, optical imaging, we visualised nsP3-positive structures with variable density and morphology, including high-density rod-like structures, large spherical granules, and small, low-density structures. Next, we confirmed the utility of the SNAP-Tag for studying protein turnover by pulse-chase labelling. We also revealed an association of nsP3 with cellular lipid droplets and examined the spatial relationships between nsP3 and the non-structural protein 1 (nsP1). Together, our study provides a sensitive, specific, and versatile system for fundamental research into the individual functions of a viral non-structural protein during infection with a medically important arthropod-borne virus (arbovirus).
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