Microbiology Spectrum (Oct 2022)

SARS-CoV-2 Variant Delta Potently Suppresses Innate Immune Response and Evades Interferon-Activated Antiviral Responses in Human Colon Epithelial Cells

  • Dixit Tandel,
  • Vishal Sah,
  • Nitesh Kumar Singh,
  • Poojitha Sai Potharaju,
  • Divya Gupta,
  • Sauhard Shrivastava,
  • Divya Tej Sowpati,
  • Krishnan H. Harshan

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 5


Read online

ABSTRACT The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has caused more severe infections than its previous variants. We studied the host innate immune response to Delta, Alpha, and two earlier variants to map the evolution of the recent ones. Our biochemical and transcriptomic studies in human colon epithelial cell line Caco2 reveal that Alpha and Delta have progressively evolved over the ancestral variants by silencing the innate immune response, thereby limiting cytokine and chemokine production. Though Alpha silenced the retinoic acid-inducible gene (RIG)-I-like receptor (RLR) pathway just like Delta did, it failed to persistently silence the innate immune response, unlike Delta. Both Alpha and Delta have evolved to resist interferon (IFN) treatment, while they are still susceptible to RLR activation, further highlighting the importance of RLR-mediated, IFN-independent mechanisms in restricting SARS-CoV-2. Our studies reveal that SARS-CoV-2 Delta has integrated multiple mechanisms to silence the host innate immune response and evade the IFN response. We speculate that Delta’s silent replication and sustained suppression of the host innate immune response, thereby resulting in delayed or reduced intervention by the adaptive immune response, could have potentially contributed to the severe symptoms and poor recovery index associated with it. It is likely that this altered association with the host would play an important role in the coevolution of SARS-CoV-2 with humans. IMPORTANCE Viruses generally learn to coexist with the host during the process of evolution. It is expected that SARS-CoV-2 would also evolve to coexist in humans by trading off its virulence for longer persistence, causing milder disease. Clinically, the fatality associated with COVID-19 has been declining due to vaccination and preinfections, but the Delta variant caused the most severe disease and fatality across several parts of the world. Our study identified an evolving trend of SARS-CoV-2 variants where the variants that emerged during early parts of the pandemic caused a more robust innate immune response, while the later emerging variant Delta showed features of suppression of the response. The features that Delta has acquired could have strongly influenced the distinct pathophysiology associated with its infection. How these changed associations with the host influence the long-term evolution of the virus and the disease outcome should be closely studied to understand the process of viral evolution.