The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the pronounced vulnerability of the elderly and chronically-ill to SARS-CoV-2-induced morbidity and mortality. Cellular senescence contributes to inflammation, multiple chronic diseases, and age-related dysfunction, but effects on responses to viral infection are unclear. Here, we demonstrate that senescent cells (SnC) become hyper-inflammatory in response to pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs), including SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein-1, increasing expression of viral entry proteins and reducing anti-viral gene expression in non-SnCs through a paracrine mechanism. Old mice acutely infected with pathogens that included a SARS-CoV-2-related mouse β-coronavirus experienced increased senescence and inflammation with nearly 100% mortality. Targeting SnCs using senolytic drugs before or after pathogen exposure significantly reduced mortality, cellular senescence, and inflammatory markers and increased anti-viral antibodies. Thus, reducing the SnC burden in diseased or aged individuals should enhance resilience and reduce mortality following viral infection, including SARS-CoV-2.
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