The high transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 is related to abundant replication in the upper airways, which is not observed for the other highly pathogenic coronaviruses SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV. We here reveal features of the coronavirus spike (S) protein, which optimize the virus towards different parts of the respiratory tract. First, the SARS-CoV-2 spike (SARS-2-S) reached higher levels in pseudoparticles when produced at 33°C instead of 37°C. Even stronger preference for the upper airway temperature of 33°C was evident for the S protein of HCoV-229E, a common cold coronavirus. In contrast, the S proteins of SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV favored 37°C, in accordance with their preference for the lower airways. Next, SARS-2-S proved efficiently activated by TMPRSS13, besides the previously identified host cell protease TMPRSS2, which may broaden the cell tropism of SARS-CoV-2. TMPRSS13 was found to be an effective spike activator for the virulent coronaviruses but not the common cold HCoV-229E virus. Activation by these proteases requires pre-cleavage of the SARS-2-S S1/S2 cleavage loop, and both its furin motif and extended loop length proved critical to achieve virus entry into airway epithelial cells. Finally, we show that the D614G mutation in SARS-2-S increases S protein stability and expression at 37°C, and promotes virus entry via cathepsin B/L activation. These spike properties might promote virus spread, potentially explaining why the G614 variant is currently predominating worldwide. Collectively, our findings indicate how the coronavirus spike protein is fine-tuned towards the temperature and protease conditions of the airways, to enhance virus transmission and pathology.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, is related to abundant replication in the upper airways, which is not observed for other highly pathogenic human coronaviruses. We here reveal features of the coronavirus spike (S) protein, which optimize the virus towards different parts of the respiratory tract. Coronavirus spikes exhibit distinct temperature preference to precisely match the upper (~33°C) or lower (37°C) airways. We identified airway proteases that activate the spike for virus entry into cells, including one protease that may mediate coronavirus virulence. Also, a link was seen between spike stability and entry via endosomal proteases. This mechanism of spike fine-tuning could explain why the SARS-CoV-2 spike-D614G mutant is more transmissible and therefore globally predominant.
Single cell transcriptomic re-analysis of immune cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluids reveals the correlation of B cell characteristics and disease severity of patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection
The COVID-19 pandemic (SARS-CoV-2) is a global infectious disease with rapid spread. Some patients have severe symptoms and clinical signs caused by an excessive inflammatory response, which increases the risk of mortality. In this study, we reanalyzed scRNA-seq data of cells from bronchoalveolar lavage fluids of patients with COVID-19 with mild and severe symptoms, focusing on antibody-producing cells. In patients with severe disease, B cells seemed to be more activated and expressed more immunoglobulin genes compared with cells from patients with mild disease, and macrophages expressed higher levels of the TNF superfamily member B-cell activating factor but not of APRIL (a proliferation-inducing ligand). In addition, macrophages from patients with severe disease had increased pro-inflammatory features and pathways associated with Fc receptor-mediated signaling, compared with patients with mild disease. CCR2-positive plasma cells accumulated in patients with severe disease, probably because of increased CCL2 expression on macrophages from patients with severe disease. Together, these results support that different characteristics of B cells might affect the severity of COVID-19 infection.
Identification of a unique TCR repertoire, consistent with a superantigen selection process in Children with Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome
Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a hyperinflammatory syndrome associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, shares many clinical features with toxic shock syndrome, which is triggered by bacterial superantigens. The superantigen specificity for binding different Vβ-chains results in Vβ-skewing, whereby T cells with specific Vβ-chains and diverse antigen specificity are overrepresented in the TCR repertoire. Here, we characterized the TCR repertoire of MIS-C patients and found a profound expansion of TCR Beta Variable gene (TRBV)11-2. Furthermore, TRBV11-2 skewing was remarkably correlated with MIS-C severity and serum cytokine levels. Further analysis of TRBJ gene usage and CDR3 length distribution of MIS-C expanding TRBV11-2 clones revealed extensive junctional diversity, indicating a superantigen-mediated selection process for TRBV expansion. In silico modelling indicates that polyacidic residues in TCR Vβ11-2 engage in strong interactions with the superantigen-like motif of SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein. Overall, our data indicate that the immune response in MIS-C is consistent with superantigenic activation.
Multisystem Inflammatory Disease in Children (MIS-C) patients exhibit T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire skewing, with expansion of T cell Receptor Beta Variable gene (TRBV)11-2
TRBV11-2 skewing correlates with MIS-C severity and cytokine storm
J gene/CDR3 diversity in MIS-C patients is compatible with a superantigen selection process
In silico modelling indicates TCR Vβ11-2 engages in CDR3-independent interactions with the polybasic insert P681RRAR in the SAg-like motif of SARS-CoV-2 spike
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