Engineered Cell Line for Coronavirus Isolation

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  • Published: 16 March 2020
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
  • Source / Publisher: PNAS/U.S. National Academy of Sciences
thumbnail image: Engineered Cell Line for Coronavirus Isolation

To combat the current outbreak of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, researchers are investigating the virus intensely. Since viruses cannot replicate on their own, cell lines are needed as hosts to allow  scientists to isolate and study the viruses. SARS-CoV-2 can be isolated using the cell lines VeroE6 (kidney epithelial cells from monkeys), Huh7 (human liver cells), or human airway epithelial cells.

Shutoku Matsuyama, Makoto Takeda, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tokyo, Japan, and colleagues have found that genetically modified VeroE6 cell lines are highly susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, which would make them particularly useful to isolate the virus. The cells are modified to express large amounts of the enzyme TMPRSS2 (transmembrane protease serine 2) and are called VeroE6/TMPRSS2. The researchers used samples from seven COVID-19 patients to inoculate the VeroE6/TMPRSS2 cells with the virus. Then they observed the cell cultures for structural changes that are signs of viral infection, determined virus titers in the cell cultures, and used electron microscopy to detect coronavirus particles.

The team found that VeroE6/TMPRSS2 cells perform better than other cell lines for SARS-CoV-2 isolation. VeroE6/TMPRSS2 displayed a tenfold greater number of SARS-CoV-2–infected cells than unmodified VeroE6 cells. The study also suggests that TMPRSS2 may play an important role in SARS-CoV-2 entering the host cells. Studies on the related SARS virus SARS-CoV-1 support this conclusion. Thus, TMPRSS2 could be a target for drug development against coronaviruses.

Also of Interest


  • LitCovid
    Curated literature hub for tracking up-to-date scientific information about COVID-19
  • Many publishers and other entities have signed a joint statement to ensure that COVID-19 research findings and data are shared rapidly and openly



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