SARS-CoV-2 infection drives an inflammatory response in human adipose tissue through infection of adipocytes and macrophages

Martínez-Colón GJ, Ratnasiri K, Chen H, Jiang S, Zanley E, Rustagi A, Verma R, Chen H, Andrews JR, Mertz KD, Tzankov A, Azagury D, Boyd J, Nolan GP, Schürch CM, Matter MS, Blish CA, McLaughlin TL.


Obesity, characterized by chronic low-grade inflammation of the adipose tissue, is associated with adverse coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outcomes, yet the underlying mechanism is unknown. To explore whether severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection of adipose tissue contributes to pathogenesis, we evaluated COVID-19 autopsy cases and deeply profiled the response of adipose tissue to SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro. In COVID-19 autopsy cases, we identified SARS-CoV-2 RNA in adipocytes with an associated inflammatory infiltrate. We identified two distinct cellular targets of infection: adipocytes and a subset of inflammatory adipose tissue-resident macrophages. Mature adipocytes were permissive to SARS-CoV-2 infection; although macrophages were abortively infected, SARS-CoV-2 initiated inflammatory responses within both the infected macrophages and bystander preadipocytes. These data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection of adipose tissue could contribute to COVID-19 severity through replication of virus within adipocytes and through induction of local and systemic inflammation driven by infection of adipose tissue-resident macrophages.