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researchsquare; 2022.


To (re)define tissue architecture of the lung and airways at the cellular and molecular level, we profiled five proximal-to-distal locations of healthy human lungs in depth using multi-omic single cell/nuclei and Visium Spatial Transcriptomics. Using computational data integration and analysis, we extend beyond the suspension cell paradigm of lung atlases to date, to define and discover macro and micro-anatomical tissue compartments. We describe novel cell types and states in vascular, stromal and nerve bundle microenvironments. From our spatial transcriptomics, we discover and validate a novel survival niche for IgA plasma cells in the airway submucosal glands (SMG). In this niche we define a supporting role for SMG epithelial cells in mucosal immunity through recruitment and maintenance of IgA plasma, B and CD4 T cells locally at the airway SMG. We identify an immune-supporting role for SMG duct and serous cells with distinct signalling circuits to recruit B cells and IgA plasma cells, promoting longevity and antibody secretion through expression of CCL28, APRIL and IL6. We find high expression of MHC-II in SMG duct and serous cells, which are localised closely with memory CD4 T cells, suggesting local modulation of antigen specific immune responses locally at the glands. This new tissue microenvironment, which we term the “gland-associated immune niche” (GAIN) has major implications for respiratory immunity and infection response. Our single cell and spatial data is available for download and query at

biorxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.06.06.446781


Prevention of SARS-CoV-2 entry in cells through the modulation of viral host receptors, such as ACE2, could represent a new therapeutic approach complementing vaccination. However, the mechanisms controlling ACE2 expression remain elusive. Here, we identify the farnesoid X receptor (FXR) as a direct regulator of ACE2 transcription in multiple COVID19-affected tissues, including the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems. We demonstrate that FXR antagonists, including the over-the-counter compound z-guggulsterone (ZGG) and the off-patent drug ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), downregulate ACE2 levels, and reduce susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection in lung, cholangiocyte and gut organoids. We then show that therapeutic levels of UDCA downregulate ACE2 in human organs perfused ex situ and reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection ex vivo. Finally, we perform a retrospective study using registry data and identify a correlation between UDCA treatment and positive clinical outcomes following SARS-CoV-2 infection, including hospitalisation, ICU admission and death. In conclusion, we identify a novel function of FXR in controlling ACE2 expression and provide evidence that this approach could be beneficial for reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection, thereby paving the road for future clinical trials.

Gastrointestinal Diseases , Death , COVID-19
biorxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.07.10.194498


Severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the cause of a present global pandemic, infects human lung alveolar cells (hACs). Characterising the pathogenesis is crucial for developing vaccines and therapeutics. However, the lack of models mirroring the cellular physiology and pathology of hACs limits the study. Here, we develop a feeder-free, long-term three-dimensional (3D) culture technique for human alveolar type 2 (hAT2) cells, and investigate infection response to SARS-CoV-2. By imaging-based analysis and single-cell transcriptome profiling, we reveal rapid viral replication and the increased expression of interferon-associated genes and pro-inflammatory genes in infected hAT2 cells, indicating robust endogenous innate immune response. Further tracing of viral mutations acquired during transmission identifies full infection of individual cells effectively from a single viral entry. Our study provides deep insights into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2, and the application of long-term 3D hAT2 cultures as models for respiratory diseases.