Authors: Gassen NC, Papies J, Bajaj T, Emanuel J, Wechmann K, Heinz DE et al.



Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) poses an acute threat to public health and the world economy, especially because no approved specific drugs or vaccines are available. Pharmacological modulation of metabolism-dependent cellular pathways such as autophagy reduced propagation of highly pathogenic Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV.

Here we show that SARS-CoV-2 infection limits autophagy by interfering with multiple metabolic pathways and that compound-driven interventions aimed at autophagy induction reduce SARS-CoV-2 propagation in vitro. In-depth analyses of autophagy signaling and metabolomics indicate that SARS-CoV-2 reduces glycolysis and protein translation by limiting activation of AMP-protein activated kinase (AMPK) and mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1). Infection also downregulates autophagy-inducing spermidine, and facilitates AKT1/SKP2-dependent degradation of autophagy-initiating Beclin-1 (BECN1). Targeting of these pathways by exogenous administration of spermidine, AKT inhibitor MK-2206, and the Beclin-1 stabilizing, antihelminthic drug niclosamide inhibited SARS-CoV-2 propagation by 85, 88, and >99%, respectively. In sum, SARS-CoV-2 infection causally diminishes autophagy. A clinically approved and well-tolerated autophagy-inducing compound shows potential for evaluation as a treatment against SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, autophagy, spermidine, niclosamide, MK-2206