Efficient culture of SARS-CoV-2 in human hepatoma cells enhances viability of the virus in human lung cancer cell lines permitting the screening of antiviral compounds

Research output: Working paperPreprintResearch

Efforts to mitigate COVID-19 include screening of existing antiviral molecules that could be re-purposed to treat SARS-CoV-2 infections. Although SARS-CoV-2 propagates efficiently in African green monkey kidney (Vero) cells, antivirals such as nucleos(t)ide analogs (nucs) often exhibit decreased activity in these cells due to inefficient metabolization. Limited SARS-CoV-2 replication and propagation occurs in human cells, which are the most relevant testing platforms. By performing serial passages of a SARS-CoV-2 isolate in the human hepatoma cell line clone Huh7.5, we selected viral populations with improved viability in human cells. Culture adaptation led to the emergence of a significant number of high frequency changes (>90% of the viral population) in the region coding for the spike glycoprotein, including a deletion of nine amino acids in the N-terminal domain and 3 amino acid changes (E484D, P812R, and Q954H). We demonstrated that the Huh7.5-adapted virus exhibited a >3-Log10 increase in infectivity titers (TCID50) in Huh7.5 cells, with titers of ~8 Log10TCID50/mL, and >2-Log10 increase in the human lung cancer cell line Calu-1, with titers of ~6 Log10TCID50/mL. Culture adaptation in Huh7.5 cells further permitted efficient infection of the otherwise SARS-CoV-2 refractory human lung cancer cell line A549, with titers of ~6 Log10TCID50/mL. The enhanced ability of the virus to replicate and propagate in human cells permitted screening of a panel of nine nucs, including broad-spectrum compounds. Remdesivir, EIDD-2801 and to a limited extent galidesivir showed antiviral effect across these human cell lines, whereas sofosbuvir, uprifosbuvir, valopicitabine, mericitabine, ribavirin, and favipiravir had no apparent activity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020

ID: 327472238