Modeling COVID-19 with Human Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Cells Reveals Synergistic Effects of Anti-inflammatory Macrophages with ACE2 Inhibition Against SARS-CoV-2
Dysfunctional immune responses contribute critically to the progression of Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) from mild to severe stages including fatality, with pro-inflammatory macrophages as one of the main mediators of lung hyper-inflammation. Therefore, there is an urgent need to better understand the interactions among SARS-CoV-2 permissive cells, macrophage, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus, thereby offering important insights into new therapeutic strategies. Here, we used directed
... rected differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to establish a lung and macrophage co-culture system and model the host-pathogen interaction and immune response caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. Among the hPSC-derived lung cells, alveolar type II and ciliated cells are the major cell populations expressing the viral receptor ACE2 and co-effector TMPRSS2, and both were highly permissive to viral infection. We found that alternatively polarized macrophages (M2) and classically polarized macrophages (M1) had similar inhibitory effects on SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, only M1 macrophages significantly up-regulated inflammatory factors including IL-6 and IL-18, inhibiting growth and enhancing apoptosis of lung cells. Inhibiting viral entry into target cells using an ACE2 blocking antibody enhanced the activity of M2 macrophages, resulting in nearly complete clearance of virus and protection of lung cells. These results suggest a potential therapeutic strategy, in that by blocking viral entrance to target cells while boosting anti-inflammatory action of macrophages at an early stage of infection, M2 macrophages can eliminate SARS-CoV-2, while sparing lung cells and suppressing the dysfunctional hyper-inflammatory response mediated by M1 macrophages.