Human Hematopoietic Stem, Progenitor, and Immune Cells Respond Ex Vivo to SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein

James Ropa, Scott Cooper, Maegan L. Capitano, Wouter Van’t Hof, Hal E. Broxmeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infection is systemic in nature, there is little known about the effects that SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure has on many host cell types, including primitive and mature hematopoietic cells. The hematopoietic system is responsible for giving rise to the very immune cells that defend against viral infection and is a source of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and progenitor cells (HPCs) which are used for hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) to treat hematologic disorders, thus there is a strong need to understand how exposure to the virus may affect hematopoietic cell functions. We examined the expression of ACE2, to which SARS-CoV-2 Spike (S) protein binds to facilitate viral entry, in cord blood derived HSCs/HPCs and in peripheral blood derived immune cell subtypes. ACE2 is expressed in low numbers of immune cells, higher numbers of HPCs, and up to 65% of rigorously defined HSCs. We also examined effects of exposing HSCs/HPCs and immune cells to SARS-CoV-2 S protein ex vivo. HSCs and HPCs expand less effectively and have less functional colony forming capacity when grown with S protein, while peripheral blood monocytes upregulate CD14 expression and show distinct changes in size and granularity. That these effects are induced by recombinant S protein alone and not the infectious viral particle suggests that simple exposure to SARS-CoV-2 may impact HSCs/HPCs and immune cells via S protein interactions with the cells, regardless of whether they can be infected. These data have implications for immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and for HCT. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalStem Cell Reviews and Reports
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • ACE2
  • COVID-19
  • Cord blood
  • Hematopoiesis
  • Hematopoietic cell expansion
  • Hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells
  • Immune cells
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spike protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research

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