Severe COVID-19 is associated with epithelial and endothelial barrier dysfunction within the lung as well as in distal organs. While it is appreciated that an exaggerated inflammatory response is associated with barrier dysfunction, the triggers of vascular leak are unclear. Here, we report that cell-intrinsic interactions between the Spike (S) glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 and epithelial/endothelial cells are sufficient to induce barrier dysfunction in vitro and vascular leak in vivo, independently of viral replication and the ACE2 receptor. We identify an S-triggered transcriptional response associated with extracellular matrix reorganization and TGF-β signaling. Using genetic knockouts and specific inhibitors, we demonstrate that glycosaminoglycans, integrins, and the TGF-β signaling axis are required for S-mediated barrier dysfunction. Notably, we show that SARS-CoV-2 infection caused leak in vivo, which was reduced by inhibiting integrins. Our findings offer mechanistic insight into SARS-CoV-2-triggered vascular leak, providing a starting point for development of therapies targeting COVID-19.
© 2022. The Author(s).