Lipid droplets fuel SARS-CoV-2 replication and production of inflammatory mediators

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Dec 16;16(12):e1009127. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009127. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites that make use of the host metabolic machineries to meet their biosynthetic needs. Thus, identifying the host pathways essential for the virus replication may lead to potential targets for therapeutic intervention. The mechanisms and pathways explored by SARS-CoV-2 to support its replication within host cells are not fully known. Lipid droplets (LD) are organelles with major functions in lipid metabolism, energy homeostasis and intracellular transport, and have multiple roles in infections and inflammation. Here we described that monocytes from COVID-19 patients have an increased LD accumulation compared to SARS-CoV-2 negative donors. In vitro, SARS-CoV-2 infection were seen to modulate pathways of lipid synthesis and uptake as monitored by testing for CD36, SREBP-1, PPARγ, and DGAT-1 expression in monocytes and triggered LD formation in different human cell lines. LDs were found in close apposition with SARS-CoV-2 proteins and double-stranded (ds)-RNA in infected Vero cells. Electron microscopy (EM) analysis of SARS-CoV-2 infected Vero cells show viral particles colocalizing with LDs, suggestive that LDs might serve as an assembly platform. Pharmacological modulation of LD formation by inhibition of DGAT-1 with A922500 significantly inhibited SARS-CoV-2 replication as well as reduced production of mediators pro-inflammatory response. Taken together, we demonstrate the essential role of lipid metabolic reprograming and LD formation in SARS-CoV-2 replication and pathogenesis, opening new opportunities for therapeutic strategies to COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / immunology
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Lipid Droplets / pathology*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*
  • Vero Cells
  • Virus Replication


  • Inflammation Mediators

Grants and funding

This work was supported by grants from Inova program Fiocruz, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) granted for PTB, TMLS, DCBH and FAB. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.