SARS-CoV-2-Mediated Lung Edema and Replication Are Diminished by Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator Modulators

 mBio. 2023 Feb 28;14(1):e0313622.. Epub 2023 Jan 10.

Honrubia JM,  Gutierrez-Álvarez J, Sanz-Bravo A, González-Miranda E, Muñoz-Santos D, Castaño-Rodriguez C, Wang L, Villarejo-Torres M, Ripoll-Gómez J, Esteban A, Fernandez-Delgado R , Sánchez-Cordón PJ, Oliveros JC, Perlman S, McCray PB, Sola I, Enjuanes L


Coronaviruses (CoVs) of genera α, β, γ, and δ encode proteins that have a PDZ-binding motif (PBM) consisting of the last four residues of the envelope (E) protein (PBM core). PBMs may bind over 400 cellular proteins containing PDZ domains (an acronym formed by the combination of the first letter of the names of the three first proteins where this domain was identified), making them relevant for the control of cell function. Three highly pathogenic human CoVs have been identified to date: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and SARS-CoV-2. The PBMs of the three CoVs were virulence factors. SARS-CoV mutants in which the E protein PBM core was replaced by the E protein PBM core from virulent or attenuated CoVs were constructed. These mutants showed a gradient of virulence, depending on whether the alternative PBM core introduced was derived from a virulent or an attenuated CoV. Gene expression patterns in the lungs of mice infected with SARS-CoVs encoding each of the different PBMs were analyzed by RNA sequencing of infected lung tissues. E protein PBM of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 dysregulated gene expression related to ion transport and cell homeostasis. Decreased expression of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) mRNA, essential for alveolar edema resolution, was shown. Reduced CFTR mRNA levels were associated with edema accumulation in the alveoli of mice infected with SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. Compounds that increased CFTR expression and activity, significantly reduced SARS-CoV-2 growth in cultured cells and protected against mouse infection, suggesting that E protein virulence is mediated by a decreased CFTR expression. IMPORTANCE Three highly pathogenic human CoVs have been identified: SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2. The E protein PBMs of these three CoVs were virulence factors. Gene expression patterns associated with the different PBM motifs in the lungs of infected mice were analyzed by deep sequencing. E protein PBM motif of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 dysregulated the expression of genes related to ion transport and cell homeostasis. A decrease in the mRNA expression of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), which is essential for edema resolution, was observed. The reduction of CFTR mRNA levels was associated with edema accumulation in the lungs of mice infected with SARS-CoV-2. Compounds that increased the expression and activity of CFTR drastically reduced the production of SARS-CoV-2 and protected against its infection in a mice model. These results allowed the identification of cellular targets for the selection of antivirals.

doi: 10.1128/mbio.03136-22

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