SARS-CoV-2 viral dynamics in non-human primates

PLoS Comput Biol. 2021 Mar 17;17(3):e1008785. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008785. eCollection 2021 Mar.


Non-human primates infected with SARS-CoV-2 exhibit mild clinical signs. Here we used a mathematical model to characterize in detail the viral dynamics in 31 cynomolgus macaques for which nasopharyngeal and tracheal viral load were frequently assessed. We identified that infected cells had a large burst size (>104 virus) and a within-host reproductive basic number of approximately 6 and 4 in nasopharyngeal and tracheal compartment, respectively. After peak viral load, infected cells were rapidly lost with a half-life of 9 hours, with no significant association between cytokine elevation and clearance, leading to a median time to viral clearance of 10 days, consistent with observations in mild human infections. Given these parameter estimates, we predict that a prophylactic treatment blocking 90% of viral production or viral infection could prevent viral growth. In conclusion, our results provide estimates of SARS-CoV-2 viral kinetic parameters in an experimental model of mild infection and they provide means to assess the efficacy of future antiviral treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Basic Reproduction Number
  • COVID-19 / blood
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Macaca fascicularis / virology*
  • Nasopharynx / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects
  • SARS-CoV-2 / physiology*
  • Trachea / virology
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Replication / drug effects


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines

Grant support

This work was funded by the French national research agency (ANR) through the TheraCoV ANR-20-COVI-0018 (JG) and also by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through INV-017335 (JG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.