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SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern infect the respiratory tract and induce inflammatory response in wild-type laboratory mice

By Shannon Stone, Hussin A. Rothan, Janhavi P Natekar, Pratima Kumari, Shaligram Sharma, Heather Pathak, Komal Arora, Tabassum T Aurani, Mukesh Kumar

Posted 29 Sep 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.09.29.462373

The emergence of new severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants of concern poses a major threat to the public health due to possible enhanced virulence, transmissibility and immune escape. These variants may also adapt to new hosts in part through mutations in the spike protein. In this study, we evaluated the infectivity and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in wild-type C57BL/6 mice. Six-week-old mice were inoculated intranasally with a representative virus from the original B.1 lineage or emerging B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 lineages. We also infected a group of mice with a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV-2 (MA10). Viral load and mRNA levels of multiple cytokines and chemokines were analyzed in the lung tissues on day 3 after infection. Our data show that unlike the B.1 virus, the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 viruses are capable of infecting C57BL/6 mice and replicating at high concentrations in the lungs. The B.1.351 virus replicated to higher titers in the lungs compared to the B.1.1.7 and MA10 viruses. The levels of cytokines (IL-6, TNF-, IL-1{beta}) and chemokine (CCL2) were upregulated in response to the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 infection in the lungs. Overall, these data indicate a greater potential for infectivity and adaptation to new hosts by emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.

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