Protein OCLN discovered to play essential function in SARS-CoV-2 cell-to-cell transmission

In a latest research revealed within the journal PNAS, researchers demonstrated that the tight junction (TJ) protein occludin (OCLN) is vital for extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike (S)-mediated, direct cell-to-cell transmission inside a number.

Research: Tight junction protein occludin is an internalization issue for SARS-CoV-2 an infection and mediates virus cell-to-cell transmission. Picture Credit score: Naeblys / Shutterstock


Viral transmission through tight cell-to-cell contact diminishes the effectiveness of antiviral medication and helps viruses evade neutralizing antibodies (nAbs). Research have documented that many human viruses, together with SARS-CoV-2, influenza A, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), use this mechanism, cell-free particles, or each to ascertain an infection and survive inside a number.

Earlier research have additionally related the formation of syncytia in human lung tissues with SARS-CoV-2. In SARS-CoV-2 and different coronaviruses (CoVs), e.g., Center Jap Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), syncytia formation contributes to the augmented direct cell-to-cell transmission. Nonetheless, the host components concerned on this course of and the underlying mechanisms of S glycoprotein–induced cell-to-cell dissemination of SARS-CoV-2 stay unclear.

Epithelial cells in human airways have intercellular constructions known as TJs that regulate the passage of ions and small solutes. In addition they function the primary barrier to pathogens. TJs comprise the protein OCLN, acknowledged as a significant host issue for the entry of a number of viruses inside a human host, e.g., rotavirus, and hepatitis C virus.

Because the virus-induced fusion of virus-infected cells with neighboring cells and the creation of syncytia requires breaking the intercellular barrier, the researchers speculated that TJ proteins may be concerned within the unfold of SARS-CoV-2 through cell-to-cell transmission.

In regards to the research

Within the current research, researchers examined the impact of SARS-CoV-2 an infection on TJ proteins, which helped them uncover a beforehand unknown function of OCLN as a host-origin internalization issue for SARS-CoV-2 entry and subsequent cell-to-cell transmission throughout the host cells. They used Vero-E6 cells contaminated with replication-competent vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) expressing enhanced inexperienced fluorescent protein (eGFP) and SARS-CoV-2 S (rVSV-eGFP-S), and alternatively, a SARS-CoV-2 recombinant expressing the mNeonGreen gene to find out the distribution of OCLN in contaminated Vero-E6 cells.

Western blot confirmed that infections by each recombinants altered OCLN expression. Accordingly, OCLN ranges grew to become undetectable 48 hour postinfection (pi) in contaminated Vero-E6 cells. The group additionally confirmed these leads to human-derived A549-hACE2 cells and a hamster SARS-CoV-2 an infection mannequin.

Subsequent, the group decided whether or not permissive cells, e.g., Vero-E6 and A549-hACE2 cells, additionally want OCLN for the institution of SARS-CoV-2 an infection. So, they transfected Vero-E6 cells with two OCLN-targeted small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), which helped them verify OCLN expression utilizing the immunofluorescence assay (IFA) and quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain response (RT-qPCR). Moreover, the researchers carried out the coimmunoprecipitation (co-IP) assay to visualise the OCLN’s interplay with the SARS-CoV-2 S protein.

OCLN is a transmembrane protein with four-helical domains, viz., an intracellular N-terminal area, a protracted cytoplasmic tail, also called C-terminal, two extracellular loops, EL1 & EL2 linked through a brief intracellular loop. So, lastly, the researchers decided which OCLN area was vital for SARS-CoV-2 internalization and cell-to-cell transmission.

To this finish, the group constructed 4 OCLN deletion constructs, viz., hOCLN/ΔC, hOCLN/ΔE1, hOCLN/ΔE2, and hOCLN/ΔN, and transfected them into the OCLN KO Vero-E6 cell line. Subsequent, they confirmed the expression of every utilizing Western blot and IFA.


The research identified that OCLN, a number issue, mediated SARS-CoV-2 internalization and subsequent cell-to-cell transmission. Thus, its knockdown decreased SARS-CoV-2 unfold, whereas its overexpression promoted it in experiments with rVSVs expressing S proteins of a number of SARS-CoV-2 variants. In vitro and in vivo SARS-CoV-2 an infection markedly decreased and ultimately fully destructed OCLN.

All rVSVs expressing S proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta, Beta, and Kappa variants exhibited enhanced cell-to-cell transmission than the WA-1 pressure. The Gamma & Alpha variants exhibited comparable skills to drive syncytium formation because the WA-1 pressure. Intriguingly, Omicron exhibited a markedly decimated capability to kind syncytia in A549-hACE2 cells relative to different SARS-CoV-2 variants and WA-1, indicating that Omicron has restricted potential to unfold cell-cell utilizing the endocytic pathway. This statement additionally justifies why Omicron BA.1/BA.2 sublineages set off trivial scientific signs than WA-1 and different SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Additional, the research experiments prompt that SARS-CoV-2 an infection solely degraded OCLN however had minimal affect on different TJ proteins, e.g., Claudin-1. Future research ought to examine the mechanisms underlying the mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2-induced down-regulation of the synthesis and stability of the OCLN protein in TJs. In SARS-CoV-2 permissive cells, the knockdown of OCLN didn’t affect angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) expression however markedly lowered viral an infection, particularly in the course of the internalization step and subsequent viral replication. Conversely, its overexpression considerably enhanced each SARS-CoV-2’s internalization and replication however not its binding. Thus, OCLN couldn’t be thought of a receptor or coreceptor for SARS-CoV-2 entry.

The research outcomes additionally revealed that the endosomal entry pathway was engaged in OCLN-mediated SARS-CoV-2 cell-to-cell transmission. Lastly, therapy with trypsin markedly promoted SARS-CoV-2 cell-to-cell transmission and augmented virus yield in host cells, suggesting that this phenomenon helps protect viral infectivity and transmissibility greater than cell-free transmission.


The present research offered mechanistic insights into SARS-CoV-2 entry and subsequent unfold inside a human host. The researchers offered strong substantiation of OCLN-driven cell-to-cell transmission of WA-1, and all different SARS-CoV-2 variants examined on this research. Certainly, OCLN is a vital host issue concerned in SARS-CoV-2 internalization and subsequent cell-to-cell viral transmission.

Journal reference:

  • Tight junction protein occludin is an internalization issue for SARS-CoV-2 an infection and mediates virus cell-to-cell transmission, Jialin Zhang, Wenyu Yang, Sawrab Roy, Heidi Liu, R. Michael Roberts, Liping Wang, Lei Shi, Wenjun Ma, PNAS 2023, DOI:,

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