Metformin Suppresses Monocyte Immunometabolic Activation by SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Subunit 1


A hallmark of COVID-19 is a hyperinflammatory state associated with severity. Monocytes undergo metabolic reprogramming and produce inflammatory cytokines when stimulated with SARS-CoV-2. We hypothesized that binding by the viral spike protein mediates this effect, and that drugs which regulate immunometabolism could inhibit the inflammatory response. Monocytes stimulated with recombinant SARS-CoV-2 spike protein subunit 1 showed a dose-dependent increase in glycolytic metabolism associated with production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This response was dependent on hypoxia-inducible factor-1α, as chetomin inhibited glycolysis and cytokine production. Inhibition of glycolytic metabolism by 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) or glucose deprivation also inhibited the glycolytic response, and 2-DG strongly suppressed cytokine production. Glucose-deprived monocytes rescued cytokine production by upregulating oxidative phosphorylation, an effect which was not present in 2-DG-treated monocytes due to the known effect of 2-DG on suppressing mitochondrial metabolism. Finally, pre-treatment of monocytes with metformin strongly suppressed spike protein-mediated cytokine production and metabolic reprogramming. Likewise, metformin pre-treatment blocked cytokine induction by SARS-CoV-2 strain WA1/2020 in direct infection experiments. In summary, the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein induces a pro-inflammatory immunometabolic response in monocytes that can be suppressed by metformin, and metformin likewise suppresses inflammatory responses to live SARS-CoV-2. This has potential implications for the treatment of hyperinflammation during COVID-19.

Publication Title

Frontiers in Immunology