Cell-autonomous requirement for ACE2 across organs in lethal mouse SARS-CoV-2 infection

Alan T. Tang, David W. Buchholz, Katherine M. Szigety, Brian Imbiakha, Siqi Gao, Maxwell Frankfurter, Min Wang, Jisheng Yang, Peter Hewins, Patricia Mericko-Ishizuka, N. Adrian Leu, Stephanie Sterling, Isaac A. Monreal, Julie Sahler, Avery August, Xuming Zhu, Kellie A. Jurado, Mingang Xu, Edward E. Morrisey, Sarah E. MillarHector C. Aguilar, Mark L. Kahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


AU Angiotensin-converting: Pleaseconfirmthatallheadinglevelsarerepresentedcorrectly enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the cell-surface: receptor for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). While its central role in Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pathogenesis is indisputable, there remains significant debate regarding the role of this transmembrane carboxypeptidase in the disease course. These include the role of soluble versus membrane-bound ACE2, as well as ACE2-independent mechanisms that may contribute to viral spread. Testing these roles requires in vivo models. Here, we report humanized ACE2-floxed mice in which hACE2 is expressed from the mouse Ace2 locus in a manner that confers lethal disease and permits cell-specific, Cre-mediated loss of function, and LSL-hACE2 mice in which hACE2 is expressed from the Rosa26 locus enabling cell-specific, Cre-mediated gain of function. Following exposure to SARS-CoV-2, hACE2-floxed mice experienced lethal cachexia, pulmonary infiltrates, intravascular thrombosis and hypoxemia—hallmarks of severe COVID-19. Cre-mediated loss and gain of hACE2 demonstrate that neuronal infection confers lethal cachexia, hypoxemia, and respiratory failure in the absence of lung epithelial infection. In this series of genetic experiments, we demonstrate that ACE2 is absolutely and cell-autonomously required for SARS-CoV-2 infection in the olfactory epithelium, brain, and lung across diverse cell types. Therapies inhibiting or blocking ACE2 at these different sites are likely to be an effective strategy towards preventing severe COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001989
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


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