Coronaviruses: Conserved targets identified for therapeutic intervention

Through the use of genetic screens the Thiel lab and collaborators identified host factors which are required for Corona virus replication and conserved among several Corona viruses including SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, they could show that two approved drugs targeting a family of conserved host factors identified could reduce virus replication in a dose dependent manner in primary human nasal epithelial cells. Their findings have been published in an article entitled "A genome-wide CRISPR screen identifies interactors of the autophagy pathway as conserved coronavirus targets " in PLoS Biology.

Over the past 20 years, 3 highly pathogenic human coronaviruses (HCoVs) have emerged-Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and, most recently, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-demonstrating that coronaviruses (CoVs) pose a serious threat to human health and highlighting the importance of developing effective therapies against them. Similar to other viruses, CoVs are dependent on host factors for their survival and replication. We hypothesized that evolutionarily distinct CoVs may exploit similar host factors and pathways to support their replication cycles. Herein, we conducted 2 independent genome-wide CRISPR/Cas-9 knockout (KO) screens to identify MERS-CoV and HCoV-229E host dependency factors (HDFs) required for HCoV replication in the human Huh7 cell line. Top scoring genes were further validated and assessed in the context of MERS-CoV and HCoV-229E infection as well as SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 infection. Strikingly, we found that several autophagy-related genes, including TMEM41B, MINAR1, and the immunophilin FKBP8, were common host factors required for pan-CoV replication. Importantly, inhibition of the immunophilin protein family with the compounds cyclosporine A, and the nonimmunosuppressive derivative alisporivir, resulted in dose-dependent inhibition of CoV replication in primary human nasal epithelial cell cultures, which recapitulate the natural site of virus replication. Overall, we identified host factors that are crucial for CoV replication and demonstrated that these factors constitute potential targets for therapeutic intervention by clinically approved drugs.

Read the Publication in PLoS Biology (Open Access)

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Abstract, figure and title from Kratzel et al. (2021) PLoS Biology published under a CC BY 4.0 license.