Integrated Single-Cell Atlases Reveal an Oral SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Transmission Axis

medRxiv. 2020 Oct 27:2020.10.26.20219089. doi: 10.1101/2020.10.26.20219089. Preprint


Despite signs of infection, the involvement of the oral cavity in COVID-19 is poorly understood. To address this, single-cell RNA sequencing data-sets were integrated from human minor salivary glands and gingiva to identify 11 epithelial, 7 mesenchymal, and 15 immune cell clusters. Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 viral entry factor expression showed enrichment in epithelia including the ducts and acini of the salivary glands and the suprabasal cells of the mucosae. COVID-19 autopsy tissues confirmed in vivo SARS-CoV-2 infection in the salivary glands and mucosa. Saliva from SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals harbored epithelial cells exhibiting ACE2 expression and SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Matched nasopharyngeal and saliva samples found distinct viral shedding dynamics and viral burden in saliva correlated with COVID-19 symptoms including taste loss. Upon recovery, this cohort exhibited salivary antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 proteins. Collectively, the oral cavity represents a robust site for COVID-19 infection and implicates saliva in viral transmission.

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  • Preprint