COVID-19 Publications

Pre-activated antiviral innate immunity in the upper airways controls early SARS-CoV-2 infection in children

Tags: | August 19th, 2021

Authors: J. Loske, J. Röhmel, S. Lukassen, S. Stricker, V. G. Magalhães, J. Liebig, R. L. Chua, L. Thürmann, M. Messingschlager, A. Seegebarth, B. Timmermann, S. Klages, M. Ralser, B. Sawitzki, L. E. Sander, V. M. Corman, C. Conrad, S. Laudi, M. Binder, S. Trump, R. Eils, M. A. Mall and I. Lehmann

Published in: Nature Biotechnology



Children have reduced severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection rates and a substantially lower risk for developing severe coronavirus disease 2019 compared with adults. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying protection in younger age groups remain unknown. Here we characterize the single-cell transcriptional landscape in the upper airways of SARS-CoV-2-negative (n = 18) and age-matched SARS-CoV-2-positive (n = 24) children and corresponding samples from adults (n = 44), covering an age range of 4 weeks to 77 years. Children displayed higher basal expression of relevant pattern recognition receptors such as MDA5 (IFIH1) and RIG-I (DDX58) in upper airway epithelial cells, macrophages and dendritic cells, resulting in stronger innate antiviral responses upon SARS-CoV-2 infection than in adults. We further detected distinct immune cell subpopulations including KLRC1 (NKG2A)+ cytotoxic T cells and a CD8+ T cell population with a memory phenotype occurring predominantly in children. Our study provides evidence that the airway immune cells of children are primed for virus sensing, resulting in a stronger early innate antiviral response to SARS-CoV-2 infection than in adults.

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