Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 Infection Using a Double Reporter-Expressing Virus.

Chiem, Kevin, Jun-Gyu Park, Desarey Morales Vasquez, Richard K Plemper, Jordi B Torrelles, James J Kobie, Mark R Walter, Chengjin Ye, and Luis Martinez-Sobrido. 2022. “Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 Infection Using a Double Reporter-Expressing Virus”. Microbiology Spectrum 10 (5): e0237922.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the highly contagious agent responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. An essential requirement for understanding SARS-CoV-2 biology and the impact of antiviral therapeutics is a robust method to detect the presence of the virus in infected cells or animal models. Despite the development and successful generation of recombinant (r)SARS-CoV-2-expressing fluorescent or luciferase reporter genes, knowledge acquired from their use in in vitro assays and/or in live animals is limited to the properties of the fluorescent or luciferase reporter genes. Herein, for the first time, we engineered a replication-competent rSARS-CoV-2 that expresses both fluorescent (mCherry) and luciferase (Nluc) reporter genes (rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc) to overcome limitations associated with the use of a single reporter gene. In cultured cells, rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc displayed similar viral fitness as rSARS-CoV-2 expressing single reporter fluorescent and luciferase genes (rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry and rSARS-CoV-2/Nluc, respectively) or wild-type (WT) rSARS-CoV-2, while maintaining comparable expression levels of both reporter genes. In vivo, rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc has similar pathogenicity in K18 human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) transgenic mice than rSARS-CoV-2 expressing individual reporter genes or WT rSARS-CoV-2. Importantly, rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc facilitates the assessment of viral infection and transmission in golden Syrian hamsters using in vivo imaging systems (IVIS). Altogether, this study demonstrates the feasibility of using this novel bioreporter-expressing rSARS-CoV-2 for the study of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and in vivo. IMPORTANCE Despite the availability of vaccines and antivirals, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to ravage health care institutions worldwide. Previously, we generated replication-competent recombinant (r)SARS-CoV-2 expressing fluorescent or luciferase reporter proteins to track viral infection in vitro and/or in vivo. However, these rSARS-CoV-2 are restricted to express only a single fluorescent or a luciferase reporter gene, limiting or preventing their use in specific in vitro assays and/or in vivo studies. To overcome this limitation, we have engineered a rSARS-CoV-2 expressing both fluorescent (mCherry) and luciferase (Nluc) genes and demonstrated its feasibility to study the biology of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and/or in vivo, including the identification and characterization of neutralizing antibodies and/or antivirals. Using rodent models, we visualized SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission through in vivo imaging systems (IVIS).

Last updated on 01/09/2023