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Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-271130

ABSTRACT

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) replicates throughout human airways. The polarized human airway epithelium (HAE) cultured at an airway-liquid interface (HAE-ALI) is an in vitro model mimicking the in vivo human mucociliary airway epithelium and supports the replication of SARS-CoV-2. However, previous studies only characterized short-period SARS-CoV-2 infection in HAE. In this study, continuously monitoring the SARS-CoV-2 infection in HAE-ALI cultures for a long period of up to 51 days revealed that SARS-CoV-2 infection was long lasting with recurrent replication peaks appearing between an interval of approximately 7-10 days, which was consistent in all the tested HAE-ALI cultures derived from 4 lung bronchi of independent donors. We also identified that SARS-CoV-2 does not infect HAE from the basolateral side, and the dominant SARS-CoV-2 permissive epithelial cells are ciliated cells and goblet cells, whereas virus replication in basal cells and club cells was not detectable. Notably, virus infection immediately damaged the HAE, which is demonstrated by dispersed Zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) expression without clear tight junctions and partial loss of cilia. Importantly, we identified that SARS-CoV-2 productive infection of HAE requires a high viral load of 2.5 x 105 virions per cm2 of epithelium. Thus, our studies highlight the importance of a high viral load and that epithelial renewal initiates and maintains a recurrent infection of HAE with SARS-CoV-2.

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