Emerging evidence shows that transposable elements (TEs) are induced in response to viral infections. This TE induction is suggested to trigger a robust and durable interferon response, providing a host defense mechanism. Here, we analyze TE expression changes in response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in different human cellular models. Unlike other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 infection does not lead to global upregulation of TEs in primary cells. We report a correlation between TEs activation and induction of interferon-related genes, suggesting that failure to activate TEs may account for the weak interferon response. Moreover, we identify two variables that explain most of the observed diverseness in immune responses: basal expression levels of TEs in the pre-infected cells and the viral load. Finally, analyzing the SARS-CoV-2 interactome and the epigenetic landscape around the TEs activated following infection, we identify SARS-CoV-2 interacting proteins, which may regulate chromatin structure and TE transcription. This work provides a possible functional explanation for SARS-CoV-2 success in its fight against the host immune system and suggests that TEs could serve as potential drug targets for COVID-19.
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- interferon response
- transposable elements