NPJ Syst Biol Appl, May 2022

Poletti Martina, Treveil Agatha, Csabai Luca, Gul Leila, Modos Dezso, Madgwick Matthew, Olbei Marton, Bohar Balazs, Valdeolivas Alberto, Turei Denes, Verstockt Bram, Triana Sergio, Alexandrov Theodore, Saez-Rodriguez Julio, Stanifer Megan L, Boulant Steeve, Korcsmaros Tamas,

Mapping the epithelial-immune cell interactome upon infection in the gut and the upper airways.

Increasing evidence points towards the key role of the epithelium in the systemic and over-activated immune response to viral infection, including SARS-CoV-2 infection. Yet, how viral infection alters epithelial-immune cell interactions regulating inflammatory responses, is not well known. Available experimental approaches are insufficient to properly analyse this complex system, and computational predictions and targeted data integration are needed as an alternative approach. In this work, we propose an integrated computational biology framework that models how infection alters intracellular signalling of epithelial cells and how this change impacts the systemic immune response through modified interactions between epithelial cells and local immune cell populations. As a proof-of-concept, we focused on the role of intestinal and upper-airway epithelial infection. To characterise the modified epithelial-immune interactome, we integrated intra- and intercellular networks with single-cell RNA-seq data from SARS-CoV-2 infected human ileal and colonic organoids as well as from infected airway ciliated epithelial cells. This integrated methodology has proven useful to point out specific epithelial-immune interactions driving inflammation during disease response, and propose relevant molecular targets to guide focused experimental analysis.

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