Publications

A Global Effort to Define the Human Genetics of Protective Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 Infection

SARS-CoV-2 infection displays immense inter-individual clinical variability, ranging from silent infection to lethal disease. The role of human genetics in determining clinical response to the virus remains unclear. Studies of outliers—individuals remaining uninfected despite viral exposure and healthy young patients with life-threatening disease—present a unique opportunity to reveal human genetic determinants of infection and disease.

The pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 in hACE2 transgenic mice

Severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused the corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in China and has become a public health emergency of international concern1. Because angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the cell entry receptor of SARS-CoV5, we used transgenic mice bearing human ACE2 and infected with SARS-CoV-2 to study the pathogenicity of the virus. Weight loss and virus replication in lung were observed in hACE2 mice infected with SARS-CoV-2. The typical histopathology was interstitial pneumonia with infiltration of significant macrophages and lymphocytes into the alveolar interstitium, and accumulation of macrophages in alveolar cavities. Viral antigens were observed in the bronchial epithelial cells, macrophages and alveolar epithelia. The phenomenon was not found in wild-type mice with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Notably, we have confirmed the pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 in hACE2 mice. The mouse model with SARS-CoV-2 infection will be valuable for evaluating antiviral therapeutics and vaccines as well as understanding the pathogenesis of COVID-19.

Development of an inactivated vaccine candidate for SARS-CoV-2

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in an unprecedented public health crisis. There are currently no SARS-CoV-2-specific treatments or vaccines available due to the novelty of the virus. Hence, rapid development of effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 are urgently needed. Here we developed a pilot-scale production of a purified inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus vaccine candidate (PiCoVacc), which induced SARS-CoV-2-specific neutralizing antibodies in mice, rats and non-human primates. These antibodies neutralized 10 representative SARS-CoV-2 strains, suggesting a possible broader neutralizing ability against SARS-CoV-2 strains. Three immunizations using two different doses (3 μg or 6 μg per dose) provided partial or complete protection in macaques against SARS-CoV-2 challenge, respectively, without observable antibody-dependent enhancement of infection. These data support clinical development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines for humans.

A Genomic Perspective on the Origin and Emergence of SARS-CoV-2

The ongoing pandemic of a new human coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has generated enormous global concern. We and others in China were involved in the initial genome sequencing of the virus. Herein, we describe what genomic data reveal about the emergence SARS-CoV-2 and discuss the gaps in our understanding of its origins.

Identifying SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins

The ongoing outbreak of viral pneumonia in China and across the world is associated with a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-21. This outbreak has been tentatively associated with a seafood market in Wuhan, China, where the sale of wild animals may be the source of zoonotic infection2. Although bats are probable reservoir hosts for SARS-CoV-2, the identity of any intermediate host that may have facilitated transfer to humans is unknown. Here we report the identification of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China. Metagenomic sequencing identified pangolin-associated coronaviruses that belong to two sub-lineages of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses, including one that exhibits strong similarity in the receptor-binding domain to SARS-CoV-2. The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin coronavirus and their similarity to SARS-CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of new coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission.

Structural basis for the recognition of SARS-CoV-2 by full-length human ACE2

Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the cellular receptor for severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that is causing the serious coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic. Here, we present cryo–electron microscopy structures of full-length human ACE2 in the presence of the neutral amino acid transporter B0AT1 with or without the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the surface spike glycoprotein (S protein) of SARS-CoV-2, both at an overall resolution of 2.9 angstroms, with a local resolution of 3.5 angstroms at the ACE2-RBD interface. The ACE2-B0AT1 complex is assembled as a dimer of heterodimers, with the collectrin-like domain of ACE2 mediating homodimerization. The RBD is recognized by the extracellular peptidase domain of ACE2 mainly through polar residues. These findings provide important insights into the molecular basis for coronavirus recognition and infection.

Imbalanced host response to SARS-CoV-2 drives development of COVID-19

Viral pandemics,such as the one caused by SARS-CoV-2,pose an imminent threat to humanity. Because of its recent emergence, there is a paucity of information regarding viral behavior and host response following SARS-CoV-2 infection. Here, we offer an in-depth analysis of the transcriptionalresponse to SARS-CoV-2 as it compares to other respiratory viruses.Cell and animal models of SARS-CoV-2 infections, in addition totranscriptional and serum profiling of COVID-19 patients,consistently revealedaunique and inappropriate inflammatory response. This response isdefined bylow levels of Type I and III interferons juxtaposed toelevated chemokinesand high expression of IL-6. Taken together, we propose that reduced innate antiviral defenses coupled withexuberant inflammatory cytokineproduction arethedefining and driving feature ofCOVID-19.

Advancing scientific knowledge in times of pandemics

Researchers at the Precision Immunology Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine (PrIISM), New York, describe their contribution to the global research effort against COVID-19 by trying to separate signal from noise in the preprint arena. Companion website (preprint reviews by The Sinai Immunology Review Project)

The Architecture of SARS-CoV-2 Transcriptome

SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the SARS-CoV-2 genome was reported recently, its transcriptomic architecture is unknown. Utilizing two complementary sequencing techniques, we present a high-resolution map of the SARS-CoV-2 transcriptome and epitranscriptome. DNA nanoball sequencing shows that the transcriptome is highly complex owing to numerous discontinuous transcription events. In addition to the canonical genomic and 9 subgenomic RNAs, SARS-CoV-2 produces transcripts encoding unknown ORFs with fusion, deletion, and/or frameshift. Using nanopore direct RNA sequencing, we further find at least 41 RNA modification sites on viral transcripts, with the most frequent motif, AAGAA. Modified RNAs have shorter poly(A) tails than unmodified RNAs, suggesting a link between the modification and the 3′ tail. Functional investigation of the unknown transcripts and RNA modifications discovered in this study will open new directions to our understanding of the life cycle and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2.

A SARS-CoV-2 protein interaction map reveals targets for drug repurposing

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19 respiratory disease, has infected over 2.3 million people, killed over 160,000, and caused worldwide social and economic disruption1,2. There are currently no antiviral drugs with proven clinical efficacy, nor are there vaccines for its prevention, and these efforts are hampered by limited knowledge of the molecular details of SARS-CoV-2 infection. To address this, we cloned, tagged and expressed 26 of the 29 SARS-CoV-2 proteins in human cells and identified the human proteins physically associated with each using affinity-purification mass spectrometry (AP-MS), identifying 332 high-confidence SARS-CoV-2-human protein-protein interactions (PPIs). Among these, we identify 66 druggable human proteins or host factors targeted by 69 compounds (29 FDA-approved drugs, 12 drugs in clinical trials, and 28 preclinical compounds). Screening a subset of these in multiple viral assays identified two sets of pharmacological agents that displayed antiviral activity: inhibitors of mRNA translation and predicted regulators of the Sigma1 and Sigma2 receptors. Further studies of these host factor targeting agents, including their combination with drugs that directly target viral enzymes, could lead to a therapeutic regimen to treat COVID-19.

Coast-to-Coast Spread of SARS-CoV-2 during the Early Epidemic in the United States

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States in January 2020, with subsequent COVID-19 outbreaks detected in all 50 states by early March. To uncover the sources of SARS-CoV-2 introductions and patterns of spread within the United States, we sequenced nine viral genomes from early reported COVID-19 patients in Connecticut. Our phylogenetic analysis places the majority of these genomes with viruses sequenced from Washington state. By coupling our genomic data with domestic and international travel patterns, we show that early SARS-CoV-2 transmission in Connecticut was likely driven by domestic introductions. Moreover, the risk of domestic importation to Connecticut exceeded that of international importation by mid-March regardless of our estimated effects of federal travel restrictions. This study provides evidence of widespread sustained transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within the United States and highlights the critical need for local surveillance.

Ethics of controlled human infection to address COVID-19

Development of an effective vaccine is the clearest path to controlling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. To accelerate vaccine development, some researchers are pursuing, and thousands of people have expressed interest in participating in, controlled human infection studies (CHIs) with severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (1, 2). In CHIs, a small number of participants are deliberately exposed to a pathogen to study infection and gather preliminary efficacy data on experimental vaccines or treatments. We have been developing a comprehensive, state-of-the-art ethical framework for CHIs that emphasizes their social value as fundamental to justifying these studies. The ethics of CHIs in general are underexplored (3, 4), and ethical examinations of SARS-CoV-2 CHIs have largely focused on whether the risks are acceptable and participants could give valid informed consent (1). The high social value of such CHIs has generally been assumed. Based on our framework, we agree on the ethical conditions for conducting SARS-CoV-2 CHIs (see the table). We differ on whether the social value of such CHIs is sufficient to justify the risks at present, given uncertainty about both in a rapidly evolving situation; yet we see none of our disagreements as insurmountable. We provide ethical guidance for research sponsors, communities, participants, and the essential independent reviewers considering SARS-CoV-2 CHIs.

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