Cell Death and Disease (Feb 2023)

SARS-CoV-2 infection induces persistent adipose tissue damage in aged golden Syrian hamsters

  • Gemma Bogard,
  • Johanna Barthelemy,
  • Aline Hantute-Ghesquier,
  • Valentin Sencio,
  • Patricia Brito-Rodrigues,
  • Karin Séron,
  • Cyril Robil,
  • Anne Flourens,
  • Florence Pinet,
  • Delphine Eberlé,
  • François Trottein,
  • Martine Duterque-Coquillaud,
  • Isabelle Wolowczuk

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 2
pp. 1 – 16


Read online

Abstract Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)) is primarily a respiratory illness. However, various extrapulmonary manifestations have been reported in patients with severe forms of COVID-19. Notably, SARS-CoV-2 was shown to directly trigger white adipose tissue (WAT) dysfunction, which in turn drives insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and other adverse outcomes in patients with COVID-19. Although advanced age is the greatest risk factor for COVID-19 severity, published data on the impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection on WAT in aged individuals are scarce. Here, we characterized the response of subcutaneous and visceral WAT depots to SARS-CoV-2 infection in young adult and aged golden hamsters. In both age groups, infection was associated with a decrease in adipocyte size in the two WAT depots; this effect was partly due to changes in tissue’s lipid metabolism and persisted for longer in aged hamsters than in young-adult hamsters. In contrast, only the subcutaneous WAT depot contained crown-like structures (CLSs) in which dead adipocytes were surrounded by SARS-CoV-2-infected macrophages, some of them forming syncytial multinucleated cells. Importantly, older age predisposed to a unique manifestation of viral disease in the subcutaneous WAT depot during SARS-CoV-2 infection; the persistence of very large CLSs was indicative of an age-associated defect in the clearance of dead adipocytes by macrophages. Moreover, we uncovered age-related differences in plasma lipid profiles during SARS-CoV-2 infection. These data suggest that the WAT’s abnormal response to SARS-CoV-2 infection may contribute to the greater severity of COVID-19 observed in elderly patients.