K18-hACE2 mice develop respiratory disease resembling severe COVID-19
Claude Kwe Yinda,
Julia R. Port,
Irene Offei Owusu,
Victoria A. Avanzato,
Robert J. Fischer,
Jonathan E Schulz,
Myndi G Holbrook,
Madison J Hebner,
Sonja M Best,
Emmie de Wit,
Neeltje van Doremalen,
Posted 11 Aug 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.11.246314
Posted 11 Aug 2020
SARS-CoV-2 emerged in late 2019 and resulted in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Several animal models have been rapidly developed that recapitulate the asymptomatic to moderate disease spectrum. Now, there is a direct need for additional small animal models to study the pathogenesis of severe COVID-19 and for fast-tracked medical countermeasure development. Here, we show that transgenic mice expressing the human SARS-CoV-2 receptor (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 [hACE2]) under a cytokeratin 18 promoter (K18) are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and that infection resulted in a dose-dependent lethal disease course. After inoculation with either 104 TCID50 or 105 TCID50, the SARS-CoV-2 infection resulted in rapid weight loss in both groups and uniform lethality in the 105 TCID50 group. High levels of viral RNA shedding were observed from the upper and lower respiratory tract and intermittent shedding was observed from the intestinal tract. Inoculation with SARS-CoV-2 resulted in upper and lower respiratory tract infection with high infectious virus titers in nasal turbinates, trachea and lungs. The observed interstitial pneumonia and pulmonary pathology, with SARS-CoV-2 replication evident in pneumocytes, were similar to that reported in severe cases of COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 infection resulted in macrophage and lymphocyte infiltration in the lungs and upregulation of Th1 and proinflammatory cytokines/chemokines. Extrapulmonary replication of SARS-CoV-2 was observed in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus of several animals at 7 DPI but not at 3 DPI. The rapid inflammatory response and observed pathology bears resemblance to COVID-19. Taken together, this suggests that this mouse model can be useful for studies of pathogenesis and medical countermeasure development. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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