1992, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA
2020 ~ date, CEO, Emerging Infectious Disease Division (EIDD), Biomedical Translation Research Center (BioTReC), Academia Sinica
Background: Human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) is the receptor mediating severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. hACE2 expression is low in the lungs and is upregulated after SARS-CoV-2 infection. How such a hACE2-limited pulmonary environment supports efficient virus transmission and how dynamic hACE2 expression affects SARS-CoV-2 infection are unclear.
Methods: We generated stable cell lines with different expression levels of hACE2 to evaluate how the hACE2 expression level can affect SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Results: We demonstrated that the hACE2 expression level controls the mode of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The hACE2-limited cells have an advantage for SARS-CoV-2 shedding, which leads to cell-free transmission. By contrast, enhanced hACE2 expression facilitates the SARS-CoV-2 cell-to-cell transmission. Furthermore, this cell-to-cell transmission is likely facilitated by hACE2-containing vesicles, which accommodate numerous SARS-CoV-2 virions and transport them to neighboring cells through intercellular extensions.
Conclusions: This hACE2-mediated switch between cell-free and cell-to-cell transmission routes provides SARS-CoV-2 with advantages for either viral spread or evasion of humoral immunity, thereby contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic and pathogenesis.