AHR signaling is induced by infection with coronaviruses Academic Article uri icon

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  • AbstractCoronavirus infection in humans is usually associated to respiratory tract illnesses, ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening respiratory failure. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) was recently identified as a host factor for Zika and dengue viruses; AHR antagonists boost antiviral immunity, decrease viral titers and ameliorate Zika-induced pathology in vivo. Here we report that AHR is activated by infection with different coronaviruses, potentially impacting antiviral immunity and lung epithelial cells. Indeed, the analysis of single-cell RNA-seq from lung tissue detected increased expression of AHR and AHR transcriptional targets, suggesting AHR signaling activation in SARS-CoV-2-infected epithelial cells from COVID-19 patients. Moreover, we detected an association between AHR expression and viral load in SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. Finally, we found that the pharmacological inhibition of AHR suppressed the replication in vitro of one of the causative agents of the common cold, HCoV-229E, and the causative agent of the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2. Taken together, these findings suggest that AHR activation is a common strategy used by coronaviruses to evade antiviral immunity and promote viral replication, which may also contribute to lung pathology. Future studies should further evaluate the potential of AHR as a target for host-directed antiviral therapy.


  • Giovannoni, Federico
  • Li, Zhaorong
  • Remes-Lenicov, Federico
  • Dávola, María E
  • Elizalde, Mercedes
  • Paletta, Ana
  • Ashkar, Ali A
  • Mossman, Karen
  • Dugour, Andrea V
  • Figueroa, Juan M
  • Barquero, Andrea A
  • Ceballos, Ana
  • Garcia, Cybele C
  • Quintana, Francisco J

publication date

  • August 26, 2021