Ancestral SARS-CoV-2, but not Omicron, replicates less efficiently in primary pediatric nasal epithelial cells

Yanshan Zhu, Keng Yih Chew, Melanie Wu, Anjana C. Karawita, Georgina McCallum, Lauren E. Steele, Ayaho Yamamoto, Larisa I. Labzin, Tejasri Yarlagadda, Alexander A. Khromykh, Xiaohui Wang, Julian D.J. Sng, Claudia J. Stocks, Yao Xia, Tobias R. Kollmann, David Martino, Merja Joensuu, Frédéric A. Meunier, Giuseppe Balistreri, Helle Bielefeldt-OhmannAsha C. Bowen, Anthony Kicic, Peter D. Sly, Kirsten M. Spann, Kirsty R. Short

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Children typically experience more mild symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) when compared to adults. There is a strong body of evidence that children are also less susceptible to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection with the ancestral viral isolate. However, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs) has been associated with an increased number of pediatric infections. Whether this is the result of widespread adult vaccination or fundamental changes in the biology of SARS-CoV-2 remain to be determined. Here, we use primary nasal epithelial cells (NECs) from children and adults, differentiated at an air-liquid interface to show that the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 replicates to significantly lower titers in the NECs of children compared to those of adults. This was associated with a heightened antiviral response to SARS-CoV-2 in the NECs of children. Importantly, the Delta variant also replicated to significantly lower titers in the NECs of children. This trend was markedly less pronounced in the case of Omicron. It is also striking to note that, at least in terms of viral RNA, Omicron replicated better in pediatric NECs compared to both Delta and the ancestral virus. Taken together, these data show that the nasal epithelium of children supports lower infection and replication of ancestral SARS-CoV-2, although this may be changing as the virus evolves.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001728
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS Biology
Volume20
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

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