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Journal of Virology ; 96(3):16, 2022.
Article in English | Web of Science | ID: covidwho-1755903


Susceptibility to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARSCoV-2) and the outcome of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have been linked to underlying health conditions and the age of affected individuals. Here, we assessed the effect of age on SARS-CoV-2 infection using a ferret model. For this, young (6-monthold) and aged (18- to 39-month-old) ferrets were inoculated intranasally with various doses of SARS-CoV-2. By using infectious virus shedding in respiratory secretions and seroconversion, we estimated that the infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 in aged animals is similar to 32 PFU per animal, while in young animals it was estimated to be similar to 100 PFU. We showed that viral replication in the upper respiratory tract and shedding in respiratory secretions is enhanced in aged ferrets compared to young animals. Similar to observations in humans, this was associated with higher transcription levels of two key viral entry factors, ACE2 and TMPRSS2, in the upper respiratory tract of aged ferrets. IMPORTANCE In humans, ACE2 and TMPRSS2 are expressed in various cells and tissues, and differential expression has been described in young and old people, with a higher level of expressing cells being detected in the nasal brushing of older people than young individuals. We described the same pattern occurring in ferrets, and we demonstrated that age affects susceptibility of ferrets to SARS-CoV-2. Aged animals were more likely to get infected when exposed to lower infectious dose of the virus than young animals, and the viral replication in the upper respiratory tract and shedding are enhanced in aged ferrets. Together, these results suggest that the higher infectivity and enhanced ability of SARS-CoV-2 to replicate in aged individuals is associated, at least in part, with transcription levels of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 at the sites of virus entry. The young and aged ferret model developed here may represent a great platform to assess age-related differences in SARS-CoV-2 infection dynamics and replication.