Replication Kinetics, Cell Tropism, and Associated Immune Responses in SARS-CoV-2- and H5N1 Virus-Infected Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Neural Models

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Abstract

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection is associated with a wide variety of neurological complications. Even though SARS-CoV-2 is rarely detected in the central nervous system (CNS) or cerebrospinal fluid, evidence is accumulating that SARS-CoV-2 might enter the CNS via the olfactory nerve. However, what happens after SARS-CoV-2 enters the CNS is poorly understood. Therefore, we investigated the replication kinetics, cell tropism, and associated immune responses of SARS-CoV-2 infection in different types of neural cultures derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). SARS-CoV-2 was compared to the neurotropic and highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza A virus. SARS-CoV-2 infected a minority of individual mature neurons, without subsequent virus replication and spread, despite angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2), and neuropilin-1 (NPR1) expression in all cultures. However, this sparse infection did result in the production of type III interferons and interleukin-8 (IL-8). In contrast, H5N1 virus replicated and spread very efficiently in all cell types in all cultures. Taken together, our findings support the hypothesis that neurological complications might result from local immune responses triggered by virus invasion, rather than abundant SARS-CoV-2 replication in the CNS. IMPORTANCE Infections with the recently emerged severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are often associated with neurological complications. Evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 enters the brain via the olfactory nerve; however, SARS-CoV-2 is only rarely detected in the central nervous system of COVID-19 patients. Here, we show that SARS-CoV-2 is able to infect neurons of human iPSC neural cultures but that this infection is abortive and does not result in virus spread to other cells. However, infection of neural cultures did result in the production of type III interferon and IL-8. This study suggests that SARS-CoV-2 might enter the CNS and infect individual neurons, triggering local immune responses that could contribute to the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2-associated CNS disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00270-21
Pages (from-to)e0027021
JournalmSphere
Volume6
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by a fellowship to D.V.R. from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (VIDI contract 91718308) and a EUR fellowship. This work was also supported by the Netherlands Organ-on-Chip Initiative, an NWO Gravitation project (024.003.001) funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the government of the Netherlands (S.A.K., F.M.S.D.V., B.L.), and by an Erasmus MC Human Disease Model Award to F.M.S.D.V. We declare no conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Bauer et al.

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