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    The development of antivirals against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been hampered by the lack of efficient cell-based replication systems that are amenable to high-throughput screens in biosafety level 2 laboratories. Here we report that stable cell clones harboring autonomously replicating SARS-CoV-2 RNAs without spike (S), membrane (M), and envelope (E) genes can be efficiently derived from the baby hamster kidney (BHK-21) cell line when a pair of mutations were introduced into the non-structural protein 1 (Nsp1) of SARS-CoV-2 to ameliorate cellular toxicity associated with virus replication. In a proof-of-concept experiment we screened a 273-compound library using replicon cells and identified three compounds as novel inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 replication. Altogether, this work establishes a robust, cell-based system for genetic and functional analyses of SARS-CoV-2 replication and for the development of antiviral drugs. IMPORTANCE SARS-CoV-2 replicon systems that have been reported up to date were unsuccessful in deriving stable cell lines harboring non-cytopathic replicons. The transient expression of viral sgmRNA or a reporter gene makes it impractical for industry-scale screening of large compound libraries using these systems. Here, for the first time, we derived stable cell clones harboring the SARS-CoV-2 replicon. These clones may now be conveniently cultured in a standard BSL-2 laboratory for high throughput screen of compound libraries. Additionally, our stable replicon cells represent a new model system to study SARS-CoV-2 replication.


    Shufeng Liu, Chao-Kai Chou, Wells W Wu, Binquan Luan, Tony T Wang. Stable Cell Clones Harboring Self-Replicating SARS-CoV-2 RNAs for Drug Screen. Journal of virology. 2022 Mar 23;96(6):e0221621

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    PMID: 35080424

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