Experimental Models of COVID-19

Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2022 Jan 5;11:792584. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2021.792584. eCollection 2021.


COVID-19 is the most consequential pandemic of the 21st century. Since the earliest stage of the 2019-2020 epidemic, animal models have been useful in understanding the etiopathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infection and rapid development of vaccines/drugs to prevent, treat or eradicate SARS-CoV-2 infection. Early SARS-CoV-1 research using immortalized in-vitro cell lines have aided in understanding different cells and receptors needed for SARS-CoV-2 infection and, due to their ability to be easily manipulated, continue to broaden our understanding of COVID-19 disease in in-vivo models. The scientific community determined animal models as the most useful models which could demonstrate viral infection, replication, transmission, and spectrum of illness as seen in human populations. Until now, there have not been well-described animal models of SARS-CoV-2 infection although transgenic mouse models (i.e. mice with humanized ACE2 receptors with humanized receptors) have been proposed. Additionally, there are only limited facilities (Biosafety level 3 laboratories) available to contribute research to aid in eventually exterminating SARS-CoV-2 infection around the world. This review summarizes the most successful animal models of SARS-CoV-2 infection including studies in Non-Human Primates (NHPs) which were found to be susceptible to infection and transmitted the virus similarly to humans (e.g., Rhesus macaques, Cynomolgus, and African Green Monkeys), and animal models that do not require Biosafety level 3 laboratories (e.g., Mouse Hepatitis Virus models of COVID-19, Ferret model, Syrian Hamster model). Balancing safety, mimicking human COVID-19 and robustness of the animal model, the Murine Hepatitis Virus-1 Murine model currently represents the most optimal model for SARS-CoV-2/COVID19 research. Exploring future animal models will aid researchers/scientists in discovering the mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infection and in identifying therapies to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; MHV-1; SARS-CoV-2; experimental models of COVID-19; in vitro model; pathology; pneumonia; variants of concern.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19*
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Cricetinae
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ferrets
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • SARS-CoV-2