Pharmacological modulators of epithelial immunity uncovered by synthetic genetic tracing of SARS-CoV-2 infection responses


  • B. Jiang
  • M.J. Schmitt
  • U. Rand
  • C. Company
  • Y. Dramaretska
  • M. Grossmann
  • M. Serresi
  • L. Cicin-Sain
  • G. Gargiulo


  • Science Advances


  • Sci Adv 9 (25): eadf4975


  • Epithelial immune responses govern tissue homeostasis and offer drug targets against maladaptation. Here, we report a framework to generate drug discovery–ready reporters of cellular responses to viral infection. We reverse-engineered epithelial cell responses to SARS-CoV-2, the viral agent fueling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and designed synthetic transcriptional reporters whose molecular logic comprises interferon-α/β/γ and NF-κB pathways. Such regulatory potential reflected single-cell data from experimental models to severe COVID-19 patient epithelial cells infected by SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2, type I interferons, and RIG-I drive reporter activation. Live-cell image–based phenotypic drug screens identified JAK inhibitors and DNA damage inducers as antagonistic modulators of epithelial cell response to interferons, RIG-I stimulation, and SARS-CoV-2. Synergistic or antagonistic modulation of the reporter by drugs underscored their mechanism of action and convergence on endogenous transcriptional programs. Our study describes a tool for dissecting antiviral responses to infection and sterile cues and rapidly discovering rational drug combinations for emerging viruses of concern.