Lung Cancer Models Reveal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2–Induced Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition Contributes to Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pathophysiology

C. Allison Stewart, Carl M. Gay, Kavya Ramkumar, Kasey R. Cargill, Robert J. Cardnell, Monique B. Nilsson, Simon Heeke, Elizabeth M. Park, Samrat T. Kundu, Lixia Diao, Qi Wang, Li Shen, Yuanxin Xi, Bingnan Zhang, Carminia Maria Della Corte, Youhong Fan, Kiran Kundu, Boning Gao, Kimberley Avila, Curtis R. PickeringFaye M. Johnson, Jianjun Zhang, Humam Kadara, John D. Minna, Don L. Gibbons, Jing Wang, John V. Heymach, Lauren Averett Byers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: Coronavirus disease 2019 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which enters host cells through the cell surface proteins ACE2 and TMPRSS2. Methods: Using a variety of normal and malignant models and tissues from the aerodigestive and respiratory tracts, we investigated the expression and regulation of ACE2 and TMPRSS2. Results: We find that ACE2 expression is restricted to a select population of epithelial cells. Notably, infection with SARS-CoV-2 in cancer cell lines, bronchial organoids, and patient nasal epithelium induces metabolic and transcriptional changes consistent with epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), including up-regulation of ZEB1 and AXL, resulting in an increased EMT score. In addition, a transcriptional loss of genes associated with tight junction function occurs with SARS-CoV-2 infection. The SARS-CoV-2 receptor, ACE2, is repressed by EMT through the transforming growth factor-β, ZEB1 overexpression, and onset of EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor resistance. This suggests a novel model of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis in which infected cells shift toward an increasingly mesenchymal state, associated with a loss of tight junction components with acute respiratory distress syndrome-protective effects. AXL inhibition and ZEB1 reduction, as with bemcentinib, offer a potential strategy to reverse this effect. Conclusions: These observations highlight the use of aerodigestive and, especially, lung cancer model systems in exploring the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses and offer important insights into the potential mechanisms underlying the morbidity and mortality of coronavirus disease 2019 in healthy patients and patients with cancer alike.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1821-1839
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Thoracic Oncology
Volume16
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Keywords

  • ACE2
  • AXL
  • EMT
  • NSCLC
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • ZEB1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

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