Engineered small extracellular vesicles protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) entry is mediated by the interaction of the viral spike (S) protein with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) on the host cell surface. Although a clinical trial testing soluble ACE2 (sACE2) for COVID-19 is currently ongoing, our understanding of the delivery of sACE2 via small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) is still rudimentary. With excellent biocompatibility allowing for the effective delivery of molecular cargos, sEVs are broadly studied as nanoscale protein carriers. In order to exploit the potential of sEVs, researchers at Sungkyunkwan University designed truncated CD9 scaffolds to display sACE2 on the sEV surface as a decoy receptor for the S protein of SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, to enhance the sACE2-S binding interaction, the researchers employed sACE2 variants. sACE2-loaded sEVs exhibit typical sEVs characteristics and bind to the S protein. Furthermore, engineered sEVs inhibit the entry of wild-type (WT), the globally dominant D614G variant, Beta (K417N-E484K-N501Y) variant, and Delta (L452R-T478K-D614G) variant SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus, and protect against authentic SARS-CoV-2 and Delta variant infection. Of note, sACE2 variants harbouring sEVs show superior antiviral efficacy than WT sACE2 loaded sEVs. Therapeutic efficacy of the engineered sEVs against SARS-CoV-2 challenge was confirmed using K18-hACE2 mice. The current findings provide opportunities for the development of new sEVs-based antiviral therapeutics.

Schematic illustration of SARS-CoV-2 infection and the application
of engineered sEVs for the neutralization of SARS-CoV-2

Mechanism of engineered sACE2 sEVs targeting the S protein of SARS-CoV-2 by exploiting the affinity of sACE2 for S. The resulting sEVs may represent an sEVs-based antiviral therapy for blocking SARS-CoV-2 infection

Kim HK, Cho J, Kim E, Kim J, Yang JS, Kim KC, Lee JY, Shin Y, Palomera LF, Park J, Baek SH, Bae HG, Cho Y, Han J, Sul JH, Lee J, Park JH, Cho YW, Lee W, Jo DG. (2022) Engineered small extracellular vesicles displaying ACE2 variants on the surface protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection. J Extracell Vesicles 11(1):e12179. [article]

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