Abstract

A key component of severe COVID-19 is a “cytokine storm” i.e., the excessive expression of unneeded cytokines. Previous studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 proteins can induce macrophages to secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines; a process that may involve Toll-like receptors (TLRs). Glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) has been implicated in TLR signal transduction and a selective GSK-3 inhibitor, termed COB-187, dramatically attenuates cytokine expression induced by the TLR ligand lipopolysaccharide (LPS). In the present study, we provide evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (S) and the S2 subunit (S2) induce production of CXCL10 (a chemokine elevated in severe COVID-19) by a human macrophage cell line. Further, we report that two clinically relevant GSK-3 inhibitors and COB-187 attenuate S and S2 protein-induced CXCL10 production. Combined, our observations provide impetus for investigating GSK-3 inhibitors as potential therapeutics for severe COVID-19.

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