Characterization of pro- and anti-inflammatory immune responses in SARS-CoV-2 infection

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Virginia Tech


Viral infection stimulates the immune response to produce many cytokines and chemokines, the proteins imperative to fight a brewing infection. This response begins through recognition of pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) from the virus, or from other signatures characteristic of tissue damage, damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs), by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) that in turn stimulate pro-inflammatory signaling cascades. The results of these signaling pathways include the release of cytokines and chemokines that work to further upregulate immune responses and attract immune cells to the site of infection, respectively. In the case of SARS-CoV-2 infection, these responses can become problematic if they go unmitigated or unresolved, resulting in the severe COVID-19 manifestation of the 'cytokine storm,' or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). One classically increased protein in cytokine storm of COVID-19 patients is C-X-C motif chemokine 10 (CXCL10), which has been explored as a prognostic marker as it is shown to be predictive of disease outcome in hospitalized patients. To prevent severe outcomes like cytokine storm, a delicate balance must be struck, to ensure that this inflammation does not result in high levels of diffuse tissue damage. To achieve this, anti-inflammatory pathways exist within the immune system and help dampen the signals being induced. One such unique anti-inflammatory protein is a pattern recognition receptor known as NLRX1 (Nucleotide binding oligomerization domain, leucine rich repeat containing X1), that can interact with two main pathways involved with anti-viral immunity, the NFB and interferon pathways, downregulating them to keep off-target tissue damage at bay. NLRX1 is also involved in several other cellular processes, including modulating cell death processes and cellular metabolism which can also impact viral replication and clearance indirectly. In this work, we investigated both the pro- and anti-inflammatory arms of the anti-SARS-CoV-2 response focusing on two key proteins – pro-inflammatory chemokine CXCL10 and immunoregulatory PRR NLRX1. The roles of these two proteins were explored utilizing transcriptomic analysis of both human and mouse RNA samples, immortalized cell culture work, humanized mouse models of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and mouse-adapted virus models to be able to utilize deficient mouse models. In this work we better characterize the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and its related immune-driven pathobiology of disease. The data presented in this work continues to elucidate CXCL10's role as an important driver of viral clearance of SARS-CoV-2, translating data from human patient nasal swabs to the animal model of disease, exploring differential inflammation and immune responses in the absence of CXCL10. Additionally, the work shown here provides further understanding of NLRX1 and its role in antiviral immunity with the context of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The interactions between this protein and the virus remains to be fully characterized, however, it appears they have some degree of mutual inhibition as determined by animal and cell culture models. The culmination of work here emphasizes the importance for both the pro- and anti-inflammatory responses in SARS-CoV-2 infection and offers insight into two possible related targets for future drug development.



SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, CXCL10, NLRX1, immunology, virus