Coronavirus Activates an Altruistic Stem Cell-Mediated Defense Mechanism that Reactivates Dormant Tuberculosis: Implications in Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

Am J Pathol. 2021 Jul;191(7):1255-1268. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2021.03.011. Epub 2021 Apr 19.


We postulate that similar to bacteria, adult stem cells may also exhibit an altruistic defense mechanism to protect their niche against external threat. Herein, we report mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-based altruistic defense against a mouse model of coronavirus, murine hepatitis virus-1 (MHV-1) infection of lung. MHV-1 infection led to reprogramming of CD271+ MSCs in the lung to an enhanced stemness phenotype that exhibits altruistic behavior, as per previous work in human embryonic stem cells. The reprogrammed MSCs exhibited transient expansion for 2 weeks, followed by apoptosis and expression of stemness genes. The conditioned media of the reprogrammed MSCs exhibited direct antiviral activity in an in vitro model of MHV-1-induced toxicity to type II alveolar epithelial cells by increasing their survival/proliferation and decreasing viral load. Thus, the reprogrammed MSCs can be identified as altruistic stem cells (ASCs), which exert a unique altruistic defense against MHV-1. In a mouse model of MSC-mediated Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) dormancy, MHV-1 infection in the lung exhibited 20-fold lower viral loads than the MTB-free control mice on the third week of viral infection, and exhibited six-fold increase of ASCs, thereby enhancing the altruistic defense. Notably, these ASCs exhibited intracellular replication of MTB, and their extracellular release. Animals showed tuberculosis reactivation, suggesting that dormant MTB may exploit ASCs for disease reactivation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Lung / virology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / virology*
  • Mice
  • Murine hepatitis virus
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Tuberculosis / virology*