TMPRSS2 Contributes to Virus Spread and Immunopathology in the Airways of Murine Models after Coronavirus Infection

J Virol. 2019 Mar 5;93(6):e01815-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01815-18. Print 2019 Mar 15.


Transmembrane serine protease TMPRSS2 activates the spike protein of highly pathogenic human coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV). In vitro, activation induces virus-cell membrane fusion at the cell surface. However, the roles of TMPRSS2 during coronavirus infection in vivo are unclear. Here, we used animal models of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV infection to investigate the role of TMPRSS2. Th1-prone C57BL/6 mice and TMPRSS2-knockout (KO) mice were used for SARS-CoV infection, and transgenic mice expressing the human MERS-CoV receptor DPP4 (hDPP4-Tg mice) and TMPRSS2-KO hDPP4-Tg mice were used for MERS-CoV infection. After experimental infection, TMPRSS2-deficient mouse strains showed reduced body weight loss and viral kinetics in the lungs. Lack of TMPRSS2 affected the primary sites of infection and virus spread within the airway, accompanied by less severe immunopathology. However, TMPRSS2-KO mice showed weakened inflammatory chemokine and/or cytokine responses to intranasal stimulation with poly(I·C), a Toll-like receptor 3 agonist. In conclusion, TMPRSS2 plays a crucial role in viral spread within the airway of murine models infected by SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV and in the resulting immunopathology.IMPORTANCE Broad-spectrum antiviral drugs against highly pathogenic coronaviruses and other emerging viruses are desirable to enable a rapid response to pandemic threats. Transmembrane protease serine type 2 (TMPRSS2), a protease belonging to the type II transmembrane serine protease family, cleaves the coronavirus spike protein, making it a potential therapeutic target for coronavirus infections. Here, we examined the role of TMPRSS2 using animal models of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV infection. The results suggest that lack of TMPRSS2 in the airways reduces the severity of lung pathology after infection by SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. Taken together, the results will facilitate development of novel targets for coronavirus therapy.

Keywords: MERS-CoV; SARS-CoV; TMPRSS2; animal model; immunopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / metabolism*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Lung / virology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / immunology*
  • Poly I-C / metabolism
  • SARS Virus
  • Serine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / immunology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / metabolism
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / virology
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 3 / metabolism
  • Vero Cells


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Toll-Like Receptor 3
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • TMPRSS2 protein, mouse
  • Poly I-C