Several RNA viruses can establish life-long persistent infection in mammalian hosts, but the fate of individual virus-infected cells remains undefined. Here we used Cre recombinaseencoding lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus to establish persistent infection in fluorescent cell fate reporter mice. Virus-infected hepatocytes underwent spontaneous noncytolytic viral clearance independently of type I or type II interferon signaling or adaptive immunity. Viral clearance was accompanied by persistent transcriptomic footprints related to proliferation and extracellular matrix remodeling, immune responses, and metabolism. Substantial overlap with persistent epigenetic alterations in HCV-cured patients suggested a universal RNA virus-induced transcriptomic footprint. Cell-intrinsic clearance occurred in cell culture, too, with sequential infection, reinfection cycles separated by a period of relative refractoriness to infection. Our study reveals that systemic persistence of a prototypic noncytolytic RNA virus depends on continuous spread and reinfection. Yet undefined cell-intrinsic mechanisms prevent viral persistence at the single-cell level but give way to profound transcriptomic alterations in virus-cleared cells.

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