Differential Mitochondrial, Oxidative Stress and Inflammatory Responses to SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Receptor Binding Domain in Human Lung Microvascular, Coronary Artery Endothelial and Bronchial Epithelial Cells

Int J Mol Sci. 2024 Mar 10;25(6):3188. doi: 10.3390/ijms25063188.


Recent evidence indicates that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein affects mitochondria with a cell type-dependent outcome. We elucidate the effect of the SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD) on the mitochondrial network and cristae morphology, oxygen consumption, mitoROS production, and inflammatory cytokine expression in cultured human lung microvascular (HLMVECs), coronary artery endothelial (HCAECs), and bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs). Live Mito Orange staining, STED microscopy, and Fiji MiNa analysis were used for mitochondrial cristae and network morphometry; an Agilent XFp analyser for mitochondrial/glycolytic activity; MitoSOX fluorescence for mitochondrial ROS; and qRT-PCR plus Luminex for cytokines. HLMVEC exposure to SARS-CoV-2 RBD resulted in the fragmentation of the mitochondrial network, mitochondrial swelling, increased cristae area, reduced cristae density, and suppressed mitochondrial oxygen consumption and glycolysis. No significant mitochondrial morphology or oxygen consumption changes were observed in HCAECs and HBECs. SARS-CoV-2 RBD induced mitoROS-mediated expression of cytokines GM-CSF and IL-1β in all three investigated cell types, along with IL-8 expression in both endothelial cell types. The findings suggest mitochondrial ROS control SARS-CoV-2 RBD-induced inflammation in HLMVECs, HCAECs, and HBECs, with the mitochondria of HLMVECs being more sensitive to SARS-CoV-2 RBD.

Keywords: COVID-19; ROS; STED microscopy; cristae; inflammation; mitochondrial network; mitochondrial superoxide.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Coronary Vessels
  • Cytokines
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus*


  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Cytokines