Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Cell host & microbe


Interferons (IFNs) are widely used in treating coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. However, a recent report of ACE2, the host factor mediating SARS-Cov-2 infection, identifying it as interferon-stimulated raised considerable safety concern. To examine the association between the use and timing of IFN-α2b and clinical outcomes, we analyzed in a retrospective multicenter cohort study of 446 COVID-19 patients in Hubei, China. Regression models estimated that early administration (≤5 days after admission) of IFN-α2b was associated with reduced in-hospital mortality in comparison with no admission of IFN-α2b, whereas late administration of IFN-α2b was associated with increased mortality. Among survivors, early IFN-α2b was not associated with hospital discharge or computed tomography (CT) scan improvement, whereas late IFN-α2b was associated with delayed recovery. Additionally, early IFN-α2b and umifenovir alone or together were associated with reduced mortality and accelerated recovery in comparison with treatment with lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r) alone. We concluded that administration of IFN-α2b during the early stage of COVID-19 could induce favorable clinical responses.


The recent association of Zika virus with cases of microcephaly has sparked a global health crisis and highlighted the need for mechanisms to combat the Zika vector, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Wolbachia pipientis, a bacterial endosymbiont of insect, has recently garnered attention as a mechanism for arbovirus control. Here we report that Aedes aegypti harboring Wolbachia are highly resistant to infection with two currently circulating Zika virus isolates from the recent Brazilian epidemic. Wolbachia-harboring mosquitoes displayed lower viral prevalence and intensity and decreased disseminated infection and, critically, did not carry infectious virus in the saliva, suggesting that viral transmission was blocked. Our data indicate that the use of Wolbachia-harboring mosquitoes could represent an effective mechanism to reduce Zika virus transmission and should be included as part of Zika control strategies.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Infection, Mosquito, Yellow fever, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Dengue fever, Wolbachia


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Without approved antiviral therapeutics or vaccines to this ongoing global threat, type I and type III interferons (IFNs) are currently being evaluated for their efficacy. Both the role of IFNs and the use of recombinant IFNs in two related, highly pathogenic coronaviruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, have been controversial in terms of their protective effects in the host. In this review, we describe the recent progress in our understanding of both type I and type III IFN-mediated innate antiviral responses against human coronaviruses and discuss the potential use of IFNs as a treatment strategy for COVID-19.


Both endotherms and ectotherms (e.g., fish) increase their body temperature to limit pathogen infection. Ectotherms do so by moving to warmer places, hence the term “behavioral fever.” We studied the manifestation of behavioral fever in the common carp infected by cyprinid herpesvirus 3, a native carp pathogen. Carp maintained at 24°C died from the infection, whereas those housed in multi-chamber tanks encompassing a 24°C-32°C gradient migrated transiently to the warmest compartment and survived as a consequence. Behavioral fever manifested only at advanced stages of infection. Consistent with this, expression of CyHV-3 ORF12, encoding a soluble decoy receptor for TNF-α, delayed the manifestation of behavioral fever and promoted CyHV-3 replication in the context of a temperature gradient. Injection of anti-TNF-α neutralizing antibodies suppressed behavioral fever, and decreased fish survival in response to infection. This study provides a unique example of how viruses have evolved to alter host behavior to increase fitness.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene expression, Bacteria, Infection, Thermoregulation, Fever, Cyprinidae, Goldfish


Antibody-based interventions against SARS-CoV-2 could limit morbidity, mortality, and possibly transmission. An anticipated correlate of such countermeasures is the level of neutralizing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which engages with host ACE2 receptor for entry. Using an infectious molecular clone of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) expressing eGFP as a marker of infection, we replaced the glycoprotein gene (G) with the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 (VSV-eGFP-SARS-CoV-2) and developed a high-throughput-imaging-based neutralization assay at biosafety level 2. We also developed a focus-reduction neutralization test with a clinical isolate of SARS-CoV-2 at biosafety level 3. Comparing the neutralizing activities of various antibodies and ACE2-Fc soluble decoy protein in both assays revealed a high degree of concordance. These assays will help define correlates of protection for antibody-based countermeasures and vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, replication-competent VSV-eGFP-SARS-CoV-2 provides a tool for testing inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 mediated entry under reduced biosafety containment.


The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged in China and rapidly spread worldwide. To prevent SARS-CoV-2 dissemination, understanding the in vivo characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 is a high priority. We report a ferret model of SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission that recapitulates aspects of human disease. SARS-CoV-2-infected ferrets exhibit elevated body temperatures and virus replication. Although fatalities were not observed, SARS-CoV-2-infected ferrets shed virus in nasal washes, saliva, urine, and feces up to 8 days post-infection. At 2 days post-contact, SARS-CoV-2 was detected in all naive direct contact ferrets. Furthermore, a few naive indirect contact ferrets were positive for viral RNA, suggesting airborne transmission. Viral antigens were detected in nasal turbinate, trachea, lungs, and intestine with acute bronchiolitis present in infected lungs. Thus, ferrets represent an infection and transmission animal model of COVID-19 that may facilitate development of SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics and vaccines.


The gut microbiome profoundly affects human health and disease, and their infecting viruses are likely as important, but often missed because of reference database limitations. Here, we (1) built a human Gut Virome Database (GVD) from 2,697 viral particle or microbial metagenomes from 1,986 individuals representing 16 countries, (2) assess its effectiveness, and (3) report a meta-analysis that reveals age-dependent patterns across healthy Westerners. The GVD contains 33,242 unique viral populations (approximately species-level taxa) and improves average viral detection rates over viral RefSeq and IMG/VR nearly 182-fold and 2.6-fold, respectively. GVD meta-analyses show highly personalized viromes, reveal that inter-study variability from technical artifacts is larger than any “disease” effect at the population level, and document how viral diversity changes from human infancy into senescence. Together, this compact foundational resource, these standardization guidelines, and these meta-analysis findings provide a systematic toolkit to help maximize our understanding of viral roles in health and disease.


Levels of inflammatory mediators in circulation are known to increase with age, but the underlying cause of this age-associated inflammation is debated. We find that, when maintained under germ-free conditions, mice do not display an age-related increase in circulating pro-inflammatory cytokine levels. A higher proportion of germ-free mice live to 600 days than their conventional counterparts, and macrophages derived from aged germ-free mice maintain anti-microbial activity. Co-housing germ-free mice with old, but not young, conventionally raised mice increases pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood. In tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-deficient mice, which are protected from age-associated inflammation, age-related microbiota changes are not observed. Furthermore, age-associated microbiota changes can be reversed by reducing TNF using anti-TNF therapy. These data suggest that aging-associated microbiota promote inflammation and that reversing these age-related microbiota changes represents a potential strategy for reducing age-associated inflammation and the accompanying morbidity.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Bacteria, Cytokine, Interleukin 1, Atherosclerosis, Apoptosis, Tumor necrosis factor-alpha


The acquisition and development of the infant microbiome are key to establishing a healthy host-microbiome symbiosis. The maternal microbial reservoir is thought to play a crucial role in this process. However, the source and transmission routes of the infant pioneering microbes are poorly understood. To address this, we longitudinally sampled the microbiome of 25 mother-infant pairs across multiple body sites from birth up to 4 months postpartum. Strain-level metagenomic profiling showed a rapid influx of microbes at birth followed by strong selection during the first few days of life. Maternal skin and vaginal strains colonize only transiently, and the infant continues to acquire microbes from distinct maternal sources after birth. Maternal gut strains proved more persistent in the infant gut and ecologically better adapted than those acquired from other sources. Together, these data describe the mother-to-infant microbiome transmission routes that are integral in the development of the infant microbiome.


The human gut microbiome is comprised of densely colonizing microorganisms including bacteriophages, which are in dynamic interaction with each other and the mammalian host. To address how bacteriophages impact bacterial communities in the gut, we investigated the dynamic effects of phages on a model microbiome. Gnotobiotic mice were colonized with defined human gut commensal bacteria and subjected to predation by cognate lytic phages. We found that phage predation not only directly impacts susceptible bacteria but also leads to cascading effects on other bacterial species via interbacterial interactions. Metabolomic profiling revealed that shifts in the microbiome caused by phage predation have a direct consequence on the gut metabolome. Our work provides insight into the ecological importance of phages as modulators of bacterial colonization, and it additionally suggests the potential impact of gut phages on the mammalian host with implications for their therapeutic use to precisely modulate the microbiome.