Publication date: Sep 22, 2023
Single-cell RNA-seq has been used to characterize human COVID-19. To determine if preclinical models successfully mimic the cell-intrinsic and -extrinsic effects of severe disease, we conducted a meta-analysis of single-cell data across five model species. To assess whether dissemination of viral RNA in lung cells tracks pathology and results in cell-intrinsic and -extrinsic transcriptomic changes in COVID-19. We conducted a meta-analysis by analyzing six publicly available, scRNA-seq data sets. We used dual mapping (host and virus) and differential gene expression analyses to compare viral and viral cell populations. We conducted a principal component analysis to identify successful models of human COVID-19. We found expression of viral RNA in many non-epithelial cell types. Fibroblasts, macrophages, and endothelial cells exhibit clear evidence of viral-intrinsic and -extrinsic effects on host gene expression. Using viral RNA expression, we found that K18-hACE2 mice most closely modeled severe human COVID-19, followed by hamsters. Ferrets and macaques are poor models of human disease due to the low presence of viral RNA. Moreover, we found that increased transcripts of certain key inflammatory genes such as IL1B, IL18, and CXCL10 are not restricted to virally infected cells, suggesting these genes are regulated in a paracrine or autocrine fashion. These data affirm widespread dissemination of viral RNA in the lung, which may be key in the pathogenesis of severe COVID-19 and demonstrate ferrets and Rhesus macaques are poor models of human COVID-19. IMPORTANCE We conducted a high-resolution meta-analysis of scRNA-seq data from humans and five animal models of COVID-19. This study reports viral RNA dissemination in several cell types in human data as well as in some of the pre-clinical models. Using this metric, the K18-hACE2 mouse model, followed by the hamster model, most closely resembled human COVID-19. We observed clear evidence of viral-intrinsic effects within cells (e. g., IRF5 expression) as well as viral-extrinsic cytokine modulation (e. g., IL1B, IL18, CXCL10). We observed proinflammatory chemokine expression in cells devoid of viral RNA expression, suggesting autocrine/paracrine interferon regulation. This report serves as a resource-synthesizing data from COVID-19 humans and animal models and suggesting improvements for relevant pre-clinical models that may aid future diagnostic and therapeutic development projects.
Open Access PDF