SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, has been associated with substantial global morbidity and mortality. Despite a tropism that is largely confined to the airways, COVID-19 is associated with multiorgan dysfunction and long-term cognitive pathologies. A major driver of this biology stems from the combined effects of virus-mediated interference with the host antiviral defences in infected cells and the sensing of pathogen-associated material by bystander cells. Such a dynamic results in delayed induction of type I and III interferons (IFN-I and IFN-III) at the site of infection, but systemic IFN-I and IFN-III priming in distal organs and barrier epithelial surfaces, respectively. In this Review, we examine the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 biology and the cellular response to infection, detailing how antagonism and dysregulation of host innate immune defences contribute to disease severity of COVID-19.
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