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Severe viral pneumonia caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is characterized by a hyperinflammatory state typified by elevated circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, frequently leading to potentially lethal vascular complications including thromboembolism, disseminated intracellular coagulopathy and vasculitis. Though endothelial infection and subsequent endothelial damage have been described in patients with fatal COVID-19, the mechanism by which this occurs remains elusive, particularly given that, under naïve conditions, pulmonary endothelial cells demonstrate minimal cell surface expression of the SARS-CoV-2 binding receptor ACE2. Herein we describe SARS-CoV-2 infection of the pulmonary endothelium in postmortem lung samples from individuals who died of COVID-19, demonstrating both heterogeneous ACE2 expression and endothelial damage. In primary endothelial cell cultures, we show that SARS-CoV-2 infection is dependent on the induction of ACE2 protein expression and that this process is facilitated by type 1 interferon-alpha (IFNα) or -beta(β)-two of the main anti-viral cytokines induced in severe SARS-CoV-2 infection-but not significantly by other cytokines (including interleukin 6 and interferon γ/λ). Our findings suggest that the stereotypical anti-viral interferon response may paradoxically facilitate the propagation of COVID-19 from the respiratory epithelium to the vasculature, raising concerns regarding the use of exogenous IFNα/β in the treatment of patients with COVID-19. © 2021. The Author(s).


Timothy Klouda, Yuan Hao, Hyunbum Kim, Jiwon Kim, Judith Olejnik, Adam J Hume, Sowntharya Ayyappan, Xuechong Hong, Juan Melero-Martin, Yinshan Fang, Qiong Wang, Xiaobo Zhou, Elke Mühlberger, Hongpeng Jia, Robert F Padera, Benjamin A Raby, Ke Yuan. Interferon-alpha or -beta facilitates SARS-CoV-2 pulmonary vascular infection by inducing ACE2. Angiogenesis. 2022 May;25(2):225-240

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PMID: 34714440

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