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A feature of the rubella virus (RV) replication cycle is the formation of cytoplasmic vesicle-containing structures known as replication complexes. Following detergent treatment of RV-infected cells, pre-embedding immunogold labeling electron microscopy using antiserum to double-stranded (ds) RNA was employed to characterize the replication complexes. Concentrations of gold particles were found associated with amorphous material located within the RV replication complex. Unlabeled long fine strands, 3-5 nm in width, were also frequently seen associated with this gold-labeled material. On some occasions gold-labeled vesicles within the replication complexes were also detected. The gold-labeled amorphous material was first detected in RV replication complexes at 12 hr postinfection, soon after the reported latent period of 8 hr. Concentrations of gold particles were not detected in mock-infected cells. The findings in this study indicate that the amorphous material is released from detergent-disrupted vesicles within the replication complex and that the vesicles contain the dsRNA. When cells were infected with the related Semliki Forest virus (SFV) and examined using the same antibody, similar gold-labeled material associated with unlabeled fine strands was also observed in SFV replication complexes. For both RV and SFV, the vesicles which line the inner membrane of the replication complexes contain the dsRNA which represent the viral replicative forms and replicative intermediates.