SARS-CoV-2 ORF8 accessory protein is a virulence factor

mBio 2023 Aug 25:e0045123.
M Bello-Perez J Hurtado-TamayoAZ MykytynMM Lamers R Requena-Platek D SchipperD Muñoz-SantosJ Ripoll-GómezA Esteban J Sánchez-CordónL Enjuanes BL HaagmansI Sola 


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) encodes six accessory proteins (3a, 6, 7a, 7b, 8, and 9b) for which limited information is available on their role in pathogenesis. We showed that the deletion of open reading frames (ORFs) 6, 7a, or 7b individually did not significantly impact viral pathogenicity in humanized K18-hACE2 transgenic mice. In contrast, the deletion of ORF8 partially attenuated SARS-CoV-2, resulting in reduced lung pathology and 40% less mortality, indicating that ORF8 is a critical determinant of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis. Attenuation of SARS-CoV-2-∆8 was not associated with a significant decrease in replication either in the lungs of mice or in organoid-derived human airway cells. An increase in the interferon signaling at early times post-infection (1 dpi) in the lungs of mice and a decrease in the pro-inflammatory and interferon response at late times post-infection, both in the lungs of mice (6 dpi) and in organoid-derived human airway cells [72 hours post-infection (hpi)], were observed. The early, but not prolonged, interferon response along with the lower inflammatory response could explain the partial attenuation of SARS-CoV-∆8. The presence of ORF8 in SARS-CoV-2 was associated with an increase in the number of macrophages in the lungs of mice. In addition, the supernatant of SARS-CoV-2-WT (wild-type)-infected organoid-derived cells enhanced the activation of macrophages as compared to SARS-CoV-2-∆8-infected cells. These results show that ORF8 is a virulence factor involved in inflammation that could be targeted in COVID-19 therapies. IMPORTANCE The relevance of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) ORF8 in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 is unclear. Virus natural isolates with deletions in ORF8 were associated with wild milder disease, suggesting that ORF8 might contribute to SARS-CoV-2 virulence. This manuscript shows that ORF8 is involved in inflammation and in the activation of macrophages in two experimental systems: humanized K18-hACE2 transgenic mice and organoid-derived human airway cells. These results identify ORF8 protein as a potential target for COVID-19 therapies.

DOI: 10.1128/mbio.00451-23

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