Transcriptomic Analysis of Alpha and Delta SARS-CoV-2 VOC in K18-hACE2 mice
Expression browser from RNAseq analysis of K18-hACE2 mouse lungs 2 or 6 days after SARS-COV-2 VOC challenge. Supplemental data for the manuscript: "SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant induces enhanced pathology and inflammatory responses in K18-hACE2 mice" by Katherine S Lee, et al. Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has been fueled by SARS-CoV-2 novel variants of concern (VOC) that have increased transmissibility, receptor binding affinity, and other properties that enhance disease. The goal of this study is to characterize unique pathogenesis of the Delta VOC strain in the K18-hACE2-mouse challenge model. Challenge studies suggested that the lethal dose of Delta was higher than Alpha or Beta strains. To characterize the differences in the Delta strain’s pathogenesis, a time-course experiment was performed to evaluate the overall host response to Alpha or Delta variant challenge. qRT-PCR analysis of Alpha- or Delta-challenged mice revealed no significant difference between viral RNA burden in the lung, nasal wash or brain. However, histopathological analysis revealed high lung tissue inflammation and cell infiltration following Delta- but not Alpha-challenge at day 6. Additionally, pro-inflammatory cytokines were highest at day 6 in Delta-challenged mice suggesting enhanced pneumonia. Total RNA-sequencing analysis of lungs comparing challenged to no challenge mice revealed that Alpha-challenged mice have more total genes differentially activated. Conversely, Delta-challenged mice have a higher magnitude of differential gene expression. Delta-challenged mice have increased interferon-dependent gene expression and IFN-γ production compared to Alpha. Analysis of TCR clonotypes suggested that Delta challenged mice have increased T-cell infiltration compared to Alpha challenged. Our data suggest that Delta has evolved to engage interferon responses in a manner that may enhance pathogenesis. The in vivo and in silico observations of this study underscore the need to conduct experiments with VOC strains to best model COVID-19 when evaluating therapeutics and vaccines.