Direct derivation of human alveolospheres for SARS-CoV-2 infection modeling and drug screening
Although the main cellular target of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection is thought to be alveolar cells, the absence of their tractable culture system precludes the development of a clinically relevant SARS-CoV-2 infection model. Here, we establish an efficient human alveolosphere culture method and sphere-based drug testing platform for SARS-CoV-2. Alveolospheres exhibit indolent growth in a Wnt- and R-spondin-dependent manner. Gene expression, immunofluorescence, and electron microscopy analyses reveal the presence of alveolar cells in alveolospheres. Alveolospheres express ACE2 and allow SARS-CoV-2 to propagate nearly 100,000-fold in 3 days of infection. Whereas lopinavir and nelfinavir, protease inhibitors used for the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, have a modest anti-viral effect on SARS-CoV-2, remdesivir, a nucleotide prodrug, shows an anti-viral effect at the concentration comparable with the circulating drug level. These results demonstrate the validity of the alveolosphere culture system for the development of therapeutic agents to combat SARS-CoV-2.