SARS-CoV-2 leverages airway epithelial protective mechanism for viral infection.iScience. 2023 Mar 17; 26(3):106175.I
Despite much concerted effort to better understand severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) viral infection, relatively little is known about the dynamics of early viral entry and infection in the airway. Here we analyzed a single-cell RNA sequencing dataset of early SARS-CoV-2 infection in a humanized in vitro model, to elucidate key mechanisms by which the virus triggers a cell-systems-level response in the bronchial epithelium. We find that SARS-CoV-2 virus preferentially enters the tissue via ciliated cell precursors, giving rise to a population of infected mature ciliated cells, which signal to basal cells, inducing further rapid differentiation. This feedforward loop of infection is mitigated by further cell-cell communication, before interferon signaling begins at three days post-infection. These findings suggest hijacking by the virus of potentially beneficial tissue repair mechanisms, possibly exacerbating the outcome. This work both elucidates the interplay between barrier tissues and viral infections and may suggest alternative therapeutic approaches targeting non-immune response mechanisms.