Dong, Wenjuan, Heather Mead, Lei Tian, Jun-Gyu Park, Juan I Garcia, Sierra Jaramillo, Tasha Barr, et al. (2022) 2022. “The K18-Human ACE2 Transgenic Mouse Model Recapitulates Non-Severe and Severe COVID-19 in Response to an Infectious Dose of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus”. Journal of Virology 96 (1): e0096421.

A comprehensive analysis and characterization of a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection model that mimics non-severe and severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in humans is warranted for understating the virus and developing preventive and therapeutic agents. Here, we characterized the K18-hACE2 mouse model expressing human (h)ACE2 in mice, controlled by the human keratin 18 (K18) promoter, in the epithelia, including airway epithelial cells where SARS-CoV-2 infections typically start. We found that intranasal inoculation with higher viral doses (2 × 103 and 2 × 104 PFU) of SARS-CoV-2 caused lethality of all mice and severe damage of various organs, including lung, liver, and kidney, while lower doses (2 × 101 and 2 × 102 PFU) led to less severe tissue damage and some mice recovered from the infection. In this hACE2 mouse model, SARS-CoV-2 infection damaged multiple tissues, with a dose-dependent effect in most tissues. Similar damage was observed in postmortem samples from COVID-19 patients. Finally, the mice that recovered from infection with a low dose of virus survived rechallenge with a high dose of virus. Compared to other existing models, the K18-hACE2 model seems to be the most sensitive COVID-19 model reported to date. Our work expands the information available about this model to include analysis of multiple infectious doses and various tissues with comparison to human postmortem samples from COVID-19 patients. In conclusion, the K18-hACE2 mouse model recapitulates both severe and non-severe COVID-19 in humans being dose-dependent and can provide insight into disease progression and the efficacy of therapeutics for preventing or treating COVID-19. IMPORTANCE The pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has reached nearly 240 million cases, caused nearly 5 million deaths worldwide as of October 2021, and has raised an urgent need for the development of novel drugs and therapeutics to prevent the spread and pathogenesis of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). To achieve this goal, an animal model that recapitulates the features of human COVID-19 disease progress and pathogenesis is greatly needed. In this study, we have comprehensively characterized a mouse model of SARS-CoV-2 infection using K18-hACE2 transgenic mice. We infected the mice with low and high doses of SARS-CoV-2 to study the pathogenesis and survival in response to different infection patterns. Moreover, we compared the pathogenesis of the K18-hACE2 transgenic mice with that of the COVID-19 patients to show that this model could be a useful tool for the development of antiviral drugs and therapeutics.

Dwivedi, Varun, Shalini Gautam, Colwyn A Headley, Tucker Piergallini, Jordi B Torrelles, and Joanne Turner. (2022) 2022. “IL-10 Receptor Blockade Delivered Simultaneously With Bacillus Calmette-Guérin Vaccination Sustains Long-Term Protection Against Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Infection in Mice”. Journal of Immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950) 208 (6): 1406-16.

Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) immunization still remains the best vaccination strategy available to control the development of active tuberculosis. Protection afforded by BCG vaccination gradually wanes over time and although booster strategies have promise, they remain under development. An alternative approach is to improve BCG efficacy through host-directed therapy. Building upon prior knowledge that blockade of IL-10R1 during early Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection improves and extends control of M. tuberculosis infection in mice, we employed a combined anti-IL-10R1/BCG vaccine strategy. An s.c. single vaccination of BCG/anti-IL10-R1 increased the numbers of CD4+ and CD8+ central memory T cells and reduced Th1 and Th17 cytokine levels in the lung for up to 7 wk postvaccination. Subsequent M. tuberculosis challenge in mice showed both an early (4 wk) and sustained long-term (47 wk) control of infection, which was associated with increased survival. In contrast, protection of BCG/saline-vaccinated mice waned 8 wk after M. tuberculosis infection. Our findings demonstrate that a single and simultaneous vaccination with BCG/anti-IL10-R1 sustains long-term protection, identifying a promising approach to enhance and extend the current BCG-mediated protection against TB.

Wong, Ting Y, Alexander M Horspool, Brynnan P Russ, Chengjin Ye, Katherine S Lee, Michael T Winters, Justin R Bevere, et al. (2022) 2022. “Evaluating Antibody Mediated Protection Against Alpha, Beta, and Delta SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern in K18-HACE2 Transgenic Mice”. Journal of Virology 96 (6): e0218421.

SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VoC) are impacting responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we utilized passive immunization using human convalescent plasma (HCP) obtained from a critically ill COVID-19 patient in the early pandemic to study the efficacy of polyclonal antibodies generated to ancestral SARS-CoV-2 against the Alpha, Beta, and Delta VoC in the K18 human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) transgenic mouse model. HCP protected mice from challenge with the original WA-1 SARS-CoV-2 strain; however, only partially protected mice challenged with the Alpha VoC (60% survival) and failed to save Beta challenged mice from succumbing to disease. HCP treatment groups had elevated receptor binding domain (RBD) and nucleocapsid IgG titers in the serum; however, Beta VoC viral RNA burden in the lung and brain was not decreased due to HCP treatment. While mice could be protected from WA-1 or Alpha challenge with a single dose of HCP, six doses of HCP could not decrease mortality of Delta challenged mice. Overall, these data demonstrate that VoC have enhanced immune evasion and this work underscores the need for in vivo models to evaluate future emerging strains. IMPORTANCE Emerging SARS-CoV-2 VoC are posing new problems regarding vaccine and monoclonal antibody efficacy. To better understand immune evasion tactics of the VoC, we utilized passive immunization to study the effect of early-pandemic SARS-CoV-2 HCP against, Alpha, Beta, and Delta VoC. We observed that HCP from a human infected with the original SARS-CoV-2 was unable to control lethality of Alpha, Beta, or Delta VoC in the K18-hACE2 transgenic mouse model of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Our findings demonstrate that passive immunization can be used as a model to evaluate immune evasion of emerging VoC strains.

Notarte, Kin Israel, Israel Guerrero-Arguero, Jacqueline Veronica Velasco, Abbygail Therese Ver, Maria Helena Santos de Oliveira, Jesus Alfonso Catahay, Md Siddiqur Rahman Khan, et al. (2022) 2022. “Characterization of the Significant Decline in Humoral Immune Response Six Months Post-SARS-CoV-2 MRNA Vaccination: A Systematic Review”. Journal of Medical Virology.

Accumulating evidence shows a progressive decline in the efficacy of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 [SARS-CoV-2]) messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech (mRNA BNT161b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) in preventing breakthrough infections due to diminishing humoral immunity over time. Thus, this review characterizes the kinetics of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies after the second dose of a primary cycle of COVID-19 mRNA vaccination. A systematic search of the literature was performed and a total of 18 articles (N = 15 980 participants) were identified and reviewed. The percent difference of means of reported antibody titers was then calculated to determine the decline in humoral response after the peak levels postvaccination. Findings revealed that the peak humoral response was reached at 21-28 days after the second dose, after which serum levels progressively diminished at 4-6-month postvaccination. Additionally, results showed that regardless of age, sex, serostatus, and presence of comorbidities, longitudinal data reporting antibody measurement exhibited a decline of both anti-receptor binding domain immunoglobulin G (IgG) and anti-spike IgG, ranging from 94% to 95% at 90-180 days and 55%-85% at 140-160 days, respectively, after the peak antibody response. This suggests that the rate of antibody decline may be independent of patient-related factors and peak antibody titers but mainly a function of time and antibody class/molecular target. Hence, this study highlights the necessity of more efficient vaccination strategies to provide booster administration in attenuating the effects of waning immunity, especially in the appearance of new variants of concerns.

Ye, Chengjin, Jun-Gyu Park, Kevin Chiem, Piyush Dravid, Anna Allué-Guardia, Andreu Garcia-Vilanova, Amit Kapoor, et al. (2022) 2022. “Immunization With Recombinant Accessory Protein-Deficient SARS-CoV-2 Protects Against Lethal Challenge and Viral Transmission”. BioRxiv : The Preprint Server for Biology.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has led to a worldwide Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Despite high efficacy of the authorized vaccines, protection against the surging variants of concern (VoC) was less robust. Live-attenuated vaccines (LAV) have been shown to elicit robust and long-term protection by induction of host innate and adaptive immune responses. We sought to develop a COVID-19 LAV by generating 3 double open reading frame (ORF)-deficient recombinant (r)SARS-CoV-2 simultaneously lacking two accessory open reading frame (ORF) proteins (ORF3a/ORF6, ORF3a/ORF7a, and ORF3a/ORF7b). Here, we report that these double ORF-deficient rSARS-CoV-2 have slower replication kinetics and reduced fitness in cultured cells as compared to their parental wild-type (WT) counterpart. Importantly, these double ORF-deficient rSARS-CoV-2 showed attenuation in both K18 hACE2 transgenic mice and golden Syrian hamsters. A single intranasal dose vaccination induced high levels of neutralizing antibodies against different SARS-CoV-2 VoC, and also activated viral component-specific T-cell responses. Notably, the double ORF-deficient rSARS-CoV-2 were able to protect, as determined by inhibition of viral replication, shedding, and transmission, against challenge with SARS-CoV-2. Collectively, our results demonstrate the feasibility to implement these double ORF-deficient rSARS-CoV-2 as safe, stable, immunogenic and protective LAV for the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection and associated COVID-19 disease.


Zarkoob, Hoda, Anna Allué-Guardia, Yu-Chi Chen, Olive Jung, Andreu Garcia-Vilanova, Min Jae Song, Jun-Gyu Park, et al. (2021) 2021. “Modeling SARS-CoV-2 and Influenza Infections and Antiviral Treatments in Human Lung Epithelial Tissue Equivalents”. BioRxiv : The Preprint Server for Biology.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the third coronavirus in less than 20 years to spillover from an animal reservoir and cause severe disease in humans. High impact respiratory viruses such as pathogenic beta-coronaviruses and influenza viruses, as well as other emerging respiratory viruses, pose an ongoing global health threat to humans. There is a critical need for physiologically relevant, robust and ready to use, in vitro cellular assay platforms to rapidly model the infectivity of emerging respiratory viruses and discover and develop new antiviral treatments. Here, we validate in vitro human alveolar and tracheobronchial tissue equivalents and assess their usefulness as in vitro assay platforms in the context of live SARS-CoV-2 and influenza A virus infections. We establish the cellular complexity of two distinct tracheobronchial and alveolar epithelial air liquid interface (ALI) tissue models, describe SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus infectivity rates and patterns in these ALI tissues, the viral-induced cytokine production as it relates to tissue-specific disease, and demonstrate the pharmacologically validity of these lung epithelium models as antiviral drug screening assay platforms.

Allué-Guardia, Anna, Rajagopalan Saranathan, John Chan, and Jordi B Torrelles. (2021) 2021. “Mycobacteriophages As Potential Therapeutic Agents Against Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis”. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 22 (2).

The current emergence of multi-, extensively-, extremely-, and total-drug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis poses a major health, social, and economic threat, and stresses the need to develop new therapeutic strategies. The notion of phage therapy against bacteria has been around for more than a century and, although its implementation was abandoned after the introduction of drugs, it is now making a comeback and gaining renewed interest in Western medicine as an alternative to treat drug-resistant pathogens. Mycobacteriophages are genetically diverse viruses that specifically infect mycobacterial hosts, including members of the M. tuberculosis complex. This review describes general features of mycobacteriophages and their mechanisms of killing M. tuberculosis, as well as their advantages and limitations as therapeutic and prophylactic agents against drug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains. This review also discusses the role of human lung micro-environments in shaping the availability of mycobacteriophage receptors on the M. tuberculosis cell envelope surface, the risk of potential development of bacterial resistance to mycobacteriophages, and the interactions with the mammalian host immune system. Finally, it summarizes the knowledge gaps and defines key questions to be addressed regarding the clinical application of phage therapy for the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Singh, Dhiraj Kumar, Bindu Singh, Shashank R Ganatra, Michal Gazi, Journey Cole, Rajesh Thippeshappa, Kendra J Alfson, et al. (2021) 2021. “Responses to Acute Infection With SARS-CoV-2 in the Lungs of Rhesus Macaques, Baboons and Marmosets”. Nature Microbiology 6 (1): 73-86.

Non-human primate models will expedite therapeutics and vaccines for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to clinical trials. Here, we compare acute severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in young and old rhesus macaques, baboons and old marmosets. Macaques had clinical signs of viral infection, mild to moderate pneumonitis and extra-pulmonary pathologies, and both age groups recovered in two weeks. Baboons had prolonged viral RNA shedding and substantially more lung inflammation compared with macaques. Inflammation in bronchoalveolar lavage was increased in old versus young baboons. Using techniques including computed tomography imaging, immunophenotyping, and alveolar/peripheral cytokine response and immunohistochemical analyses, we delineated cellular immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection in macaque and baboon lungs, including innate and adaptive immune cells and a prominent type-I interferon response. Macaques developed T-cell memory phenotypes/responses and bystander cytokine production. Old macaques had lower titres of SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG antibody levels compared with young macaques. Acute respiratory distress in macaques and baboons recapitulates the progression of COVID-19 in humans, making them suitable as models to test vaccines and therapies.

Allué-Guardia, Anna, Juan I Garcia, and Jordi B Torrelles. (2021) 2021. “Evolution of Drug-Resistant Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Strains and Their Adaptation to the Human Lung Environment”. Frontiers in Microbiology 12: 612675.

In the last two decades, multi (MDR), extensively (XDR), extremely (XXDR) and total (TDR) drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) strains have emerged as a threat to public health worldwide, stressing the need to develop new tuberculosis (TB) prevention and treatment strategies. It is estimated that in the next 35 years, drug-resistant TB will kill around 75 million people and cost the global economy $16.7 trillion. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic alone may contribute with the development of 6.3 million new TB cases due to lack of resources and enforced confinement in TB endemic areas. Evolution of drug-resistant M.tb depends on numerous factors, such as bacterial fitness, strain's genetic background and its capacity to adapt to the surrounding environment, as well as host-specific and environmental factors. Whole-genome transcriptomics and genome-wide association studies in recent years have shed some insights into the complexity of M.tb drug resistance and have provided a better understanding of its underlying molecular mechanisms. In this review, we will discuss M.tb phenotypic and genotypic changes driving resistance, including changes in cell envelope components, as well as recently described intrinsic and extrinsic factors promoting resistance emergence and transmission. We will further explore how drug-resistant M.tb adapts differently than drug-susceptible strains to the lung environment at the cellular level, modulating M.tb-host interactions and disease outcome, and novel next generation sequencing (NGS) strategies to study drug-resistant TB.

Yigzaw, Wubet Birhan, Jordi B Torrelles, Shu-Hua Wang, and Belay Tessema. (2021) 2021. “Magnitude of Phenotypic and MTBDRplus Line Probe Assay First-Line Anti-Tuberculosis Drug Resistance Among Tuberculosis Patients; Northwest Ethiopia”. Infection and Drug Resistance 14: 497-505.

Background: Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) drug resistance is a key challenge in ending TB.

Objective: The study aimed to determine anti-TB drug resistance and compare the discordance between phenotypic and genotypic drug-susceptibility testing (DST).

Methods: Prospective enrollment and sputum collection from patients suspected of active pulmonary TB from May 2018 to December 2019 at the University of Gondar Hospital. Phenotypic DST study for streptomycin, isoniazid, rifampin, and ethambutol was done by MGIT 360 SIRE Kit. Genotypic resistance for isoniazid and rifampin was performed by MTBDRplus v2 line probe assay (LPA) and compared to phenotypic drug resistance.

Results: A total of 376 patients, median age 32 years, and 53.7% male were enrolled. Mtb was isolated from 126 patients. 106/126 (84%) patients were newly diagnosed with TB and 20 patients with prior TB treatment. Seventy (66.0%) were susceptible to all anti-TB drugs tested. Twenty-five (19.8%) of the isolates were resistant to isoniazid, 12 (9.5%) to rifampicin and six (5%) were multidrug resistant. Among previously treated TB patients, 4 (20.0%) and 5 (25.0%) were mono-resistant and poly-resistant, respectively. The sensitivity and specificity of LPA resistance for isoniazid were 94.4% and 100%, and for rifampin was 75.0% and 100%, respectively.

Conclusion: The frequency of mono- and poly-drug resistance among both newly diagnosed and previously treated TB patients was high to the rest of the nation. MTBDRplus showed excellent concordance for isoniazid and rifampin. We concluded that DST should be performed for all patients to improve management and decrease spread of drug-resistant Mtb strains in the community.