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Human cells respond to infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by producing cytokines including type I and III interferons (IFNs) and proinflammatory factors such as IL6 and TNF. IFNs can limit SARS-CoV-2 replication but cytokine imbalance contributes to severe COVID-19. We studied how cells detect SARS-CoV-2 infection. We report that the cytosolic RNA sensor MDA5 was required for type I and III IFN induction in the lung cancer cell line Calu-3 upon SARS-CoV-2 infection. Type I and III IFN induction further required MAVS and IRF3. In contrast, induction of IL6 and TNF was independent of the MDA5-MAVS-IRF3 axis in this setting. We further found that SARS-CoV-2 infection inhibited the ability of cells to respond to IFNs. In sum, we identified MDA5 as a cellular sensor for SARS-CoV-2 infection that induced type I and III IFNs.

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Journal article


Sci Rep

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COVID-19, Cell Line, Humans, Immunity, Innate, Interferon Type I, Interferon-Induced Helicase, IFIH1, Interferons, RNA, SARS-CoV-2, Interferon Lambda