Posted: 2021-11-04 19:00:00
The global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), a positive-sense RNA virus. How the host immune system senses and responds to SARS-CoV-2 infection remain largely unresolved. Here, we report that SARS-CoV-2 infection activates the innate immune response through the cytosolic DNA sensing cGAS-STING pathway. SARS-CoV-2 infection induces the cellular level of 2'3'-cGAMP associated with STING activation. cGAS recognizes chromatin DNA shuttled from the nucleus as a result of cell-to-cell fusion upon SARS-CoV-2 infection. We further demonstrate that the expression of spike protein from SARS-CoV-2 and ACE2 from host cells is sufficient to trigger cytoplasmic chromatin upon cell fusion. Furthermore, cytoplasmic chromatin-cGAS-STING pathway, but not MAVS-mediated viral RNA sensing pathway, contributes to interferon and pro-inflammatory gene expression upon cell fusion. Finally, we show that cGAS is required for host antiviral responses against SARS-CoV-2, and a STING-activating compound potently inhibits viral replication. Together, our study reported a previously unappreciated mechanism by which the host innate immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2 infection, mediated by cytoplasmic chromatin from the infected cells. Targeting the cytoplasmic chromatin-cGAS-STING pathway may offer novel therapeutic opportunities in treating COVID-19. In addition, these findings extend our knowledge in host defense against viral infection by showing that host cells' self-nucleic acids can be employed as a "danger signal" to alarm the immune system.
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