Three-Dimensional Human Alveolar Stem Cell Culture Models Reveal Infection Response to SARS-CoV-2

Jeonghwan Youk, Taewoo Kim, Kelly V. Evans, Young Il Jeong, Yongsuk Hur, Seon Pyo Hong, Je Hyoung Kim, Kijong Yi, Su Yeon Kim, Kwon Joong Na, Thomas Bleazard, Ho Min Kim, Mick Fellows, Krishnaa T. Mahbubani, Kourosh Saeb-Parsy, Seon Young Kim, Young Tae Kim, Gou Young Koh, Byeong Sun Choi, Young Seok JuJoo Hyeon Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the cause of a present pandemic, infects human lung alveolar type 2 (hAT2) cells. Characterizing pathogenesis is crucial for developing vaccines and therapeutics. However, the lack of models mirroring the cellular physiology and pathology of hAT2 cells limits the study. Here, we develop a feeder-free, long-term, three-dimensional (3D) culture technique for hAT2 cells derived from primary human lung tissue and investigate infection response to SARS-CoV-2. By imaging-based analysis and single-cell transcriptome profiling, we reveal rapid viral replication and the increased expression of interferon-associated genes and proinflammatory genes in infected hAT2 cells, indicating a robust endogenous innate immune response. Further tracing of viral mutations acquired during transmission identifies full infection of individual cells effectively from a single viral entry. Our study provides deep insights into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 and the application of defined 3D hAT2 cultures as models for respiratory diseases. To study infection response to SARS-CoV-2, Youk et al. developed a 3D culture model of human alveolar stem cells in chemically defined conditions. They reveal that SARS-CoV-2 productively infects alveolar type 2 cells, resulting in an innate immune response. Full infection of individual cells was exhibited from a single viral entry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)905-919.e10
JournalCell Stem Cell
Issue number6
StatePublished - 3 Dec 2020


  • 3D cultures
  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • alveolar stem cells
  • electron microscopy
  • human alveolar type 2 cells
  • infection
  • interferon
  • interferon-stimulating genes
  • single-cell RNA-seq

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