Age-Dependent Progression of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Syrian Hamsters
In late 2019, an outbreak of a severe respiratory disease caused by an emerging coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, resulted in high morbidity and mortality in infected humans. Complete understanding of COVID-19, the multi-faceted disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, requires suitable small animal models, as does the development and evaluation of vaccines and antivirals. Since age-dependent differences of COVID-19 were identified in humans, we compared the course of SARS-CoV-2 infection in young and aged Syrian hamsters. We show that virus replication in the upper and lower respiratory tract was independent of the age of the animals. However, older hamsters exhibited more pronounced and consistent weight loss. In situ hybridization in the lungs identified viral RNA in bronchial epithelium, alveolar epithelial cells type I and II, and macrophages. Histopathology revealed clear age-dependent differences, with young hamsters launching earlier and stronger immune cell influx than aged hamsters. The latter developed conspicuous alveolar and perivascular edema, indicating vascular leakage. In contrast, we observed rapid lung recovery at day 14 after infection only in young hamsters. We propose that comparative assessment in young versus aged hamsters of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and treatments may yield valuable information, as this small-animal model appears to mirror age-dependent differences in human patients.