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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection of Human Ciliated Airway Epithelia: Role of Ciliated Cells in Viral Spread in the Conducting Airways of the Lungs

American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
  • Pathogenesis And Immunity
  • Biology


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) emerged in 2002 as an important cause of severe lower respiratory tract infection in humans, and in vitro models of the lung are needed to elucidate cellular targets and the consequences of viral infection. The SARS-CoV receptor, human angiotensin 1-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2), was detected in ciliated airway epithelial cells of human airway tissues derived from nasal or tracheobronchial regions, suggesting that SARS-CoV may infect the proximal airways. To assess infectivity in an in vitro model of human ciliated airway epithelia (HAE) derived from nasal and tracheobronchial airway regions, we generated recombinant SARS-CoV by deletion of open reading frame 7a/7b (ORF7a/7b) and insertion of the green fluorescent protein (GFP), resulting in SARS-CoV GFP. SARS-CoV GFP replicated to titers similar to those of wild-type viruses in cell lines. SARS-CoV specifically infected HAE via the apical surface and replicated to titers of 107 PFU/ml by 48 h postinfection. Polyclonal antisera directed against hACE2 blocked virus infection and replication, suggesting that hACE2 is the primary receptor for SARS-CoV infection of HAE. SARS-CoV structural proteins and virions localized to ciliated epithelial cells. Infection was highly cytolytic, as infected ciliated cells were necrotic and shed over time onto the luminal surface of the epithelium. SARS-CoV GFP also replicated to a lesser extent in ciliated cell cultures derived from hamster or rhesus monkey airways. Efficient SARS-CoV infection of ciliated cells in HAE provides a useful in vitro model of human lung origin to study characteristics of SARS-CoV replication and pathogenesis.

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