A zebrafish model of COVID-19-associated cytokine storm syndrome reveals that the Spike protein signals via TLR2

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Understanding the mechanism of virulence of SARS-CoV-2 and host innate immune responses are essential to develop novel therapies. One of the most studied defense mechanisms against invading pathogens, including viruses, are Toll-like receptors (TLRs). Among them, TLR3, TLR7, TLR8 and TLR9 detect different forms of viral nucleic acids in endosomal compartments, whereas TLR2 and TLR4 recognize viral structural and nonstructural proteins outside the cell. Although many different TLRs have been shown to be involved in SARS-CoV-2 infection and detection of different structural proteins, most studies have been performed in vitro and the results obtained are rather contradictory. In this study, we report using the unique advantages of the zebrafish model for in vivo imaging and gene editing that the S1 domain of the Spike protein from the Wuhan strain (S1WT) induced hyperinflammation in zebrafish larvae via a Tlr2/Myd88 signaling pathway and independently of interleukin-1β production. In addition, S1WT also triggered emergency myelopoiesis, but in this case through a Tlr2/Myd88-independent signaling pathway. These results shed light on the mechanisms involved in the COVID-19-associated cytokine storm syndrome.

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