Int J Mol Sci 22 (19) - [2021-09-30; online 2021-09-30]
Natural or experimental infection of domestic cats and virus transmission from humans to captive predatory cats suggest that felids are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, it is unclear which cells and compartments of the respiratory tract are infected. To address this question, primary cell cultures derived from the nose, trachea, and lungs of cat and lion were inoculated with SARS-CoV-2. Strong viral replication was observed for nasal mucosa explants and tracheal air-liquid interface cultures, whereas replication in lung slices was less efficient. Infection was mainly restricted to epithelial cells and did not cause major pathological changes. Detection of high ACE2 levels in the nose and trachea but not lung further suggests that susceptibility of feline tissues to SARS-CoV-2 correlates with ACE2 expression. Collectively, this study demonstrates that SARS-CoV-2 can efficiently replicate in the feline upper respiratory tract ex vivo and thus highlights the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spillover from humans to felids.