The global urgency to uncover medical countermeasures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has revealed an unmet need for robust tissue culture models that faithfully recapitulate key features of human tissues and disease. Infection of the nose is considered the dominant initial site for SARS-CoV-2 infection and models that replicate this entry portal offer the greatest potential for examining and demonstrating the effectiveness of countermeasures designed to prevent or manage this highly communicable disease. Here, we test an air–liquid-interface (ALI) differentiated human nasal epithelium (HNE) culture system as a model of authentic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Progenitor cells (basal cells) were isolated from nasal turbinate brushings, expanded under conditionally reprogrammed cell (CRC) culture conditions and differentiated at ALI. Differentiated cells were inoculated with different SARS-CoV-2 clinical isolates. Infectious virus release into apical washes was determined by TCID50, while infected cells were visualized by immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy. We demonstrate robust, reproducible SARS-CoV-2 infection of ALI-HNE established from different donors. Viral entry and release occurred from the apical surface, and infection was primarily observed in ciliated cells. In contrast to the ancestral clinical isolate, the Delta variant caused considerable cell damage. Successful establishment of ALI-HNE is donor dependent. ALI-HNE recapitulate key features of human SARS-CoV-2 infection of the nose and can serve as a pre-clinical model without the need for invasive collection of human respiratory tissue samples.
- Human nasal epithelium