Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV)-2 has caused millions of deaths since emerging in 2019. Innate immune antagonism by lethal CoVs such as SARS-CoV-2 is crucial for optimal replication and pathogenesis. The conserved nonstructural protein 15 (nsp15) endoribonuclease (EndoU) limits activation of double-stranded (ds)RNA-induced pathways, including interferon (IFN) signaling, protein kinase R (PKR), and oligoadenylate synthetase/ribonuclease L (OAS/RNase L) during diverse CoV infections including murine coronavirus and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV. To determine how nsp15 functions during SARS-CoV-2 infection, we constructed a mutant recombinant SARS-CoV-2 (nsp15 mut ) expressing a catalytically inactive nsp15. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 nsp15 mut led to increased activation of the IFN signaling and PKR pathways in lung-derived epithelial cell lines and primary nasal epithelial air-liquid interface (ALI) cultures as well as significant attenuation of replication in ALI cultures compared to wild-type (WT) virus. This replication defect was rescued when IFN signaling was inhibited with the Janus activated kinase (JAK) inhibitor ruxolitinib. Finally, to assess nsp15 function in the context of minimal (MERS-CoV) or moderate (SARS-CoV-2) innate immune induction, we compared infections with SARS-CoV-2 nsp15 mut and previously described MERS-CoV nsp15 mutants. Inactivation of nsp15 had a more dramatic impact on MERS-CoV replication than SARS-CoV-2 in both Calu3 cells and nasal ALI cultures suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 can better tolerate innate immune responses. Taken together, SARS-CoV-2 nsp15 is a potent inhibitor of dsRNA-induced innate immune response and its antagonism of IFN signaling is necessary for optimal viral replication in primary nasal ALI culture.
Competing Interest Statement .
Susan R Weiss is on the Scientific Advisory Board of Ocugen, Inc. and consults for Powell Gilbert LLP. Noam A Cohen consults for GSK, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Sanofi/Regeneron; has US Patent "Therapy and Diagnostics for Respiratory Infection" (10,881,698 B2, WO20913112865) and a licensing agreement with GeneOne Life Sciences. .