Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

SARS-CoV-2 infection dysregulates cilia and basal cell homeostasis in the respiratory epithelium of hamsters

Similar to many other respiratory viruses, SARS-CoV-2 targets the ciliated cells of the respiratory epithelium and compromises mucociliary clearance, thereby facilitating spread to the lungs and paving the way for secondary infections. A detailed understanding of mechanism involved in ciliary loss and subsequent regeneration is crucial to assess the possible long-term consequences of COVID-19. The aim of this study was to characterize the sequence of histological and ultrastructural changes observed in the ciliated epithelium during and after SARS-CoV-2 infection in the golden Syrian hamster model. We show that acute infection induces a severe, transient loss of cilia, which is, at least in part, caused by cilia internalization. Internalized cilia colocalize with membrane invaginations, facilitating virus entry into the cell. Infection also results in a progressive decline in cells expressing the regulator of ciliogenesis FOXJ1, which persists beyond virus clearance and the termination of inflammatory changes. Ciliary loss triggers the mobilization of p73+ and CK14+ basal cells, which ceases after regeneration of the cilia. Although ciliation is restored after two weeks despite the lack of FOXJ1, an increased frequency of cilia with ultrastructural alterations indicative of secondary ciliary dyskinesia is observed. In summary, the work provides new insights into SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis and expands our understanding of virally induced damage to defense mechanisms in the conducting airways.

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