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Removal of senescent cells reduces the viral load and attenuates pulmonary and systemic inflammation in SARS-CoV-2-infected, aged hamsters

Older age is one of the strongest risk factors for severe COVID-19. In this study, we determined whether age-associated cellular senescence contributes to the severity of experimental COVID-19.

Aged golden hamsters accumulate senescent cells in the lungs, and the senolytic drug ABT-263, a BCL-2 inhibitor, depletes these cells at baseline and during SARS-CoV-2 infection. Relative to young hamsters, aged hamsters had a greater viral load during the acute phase of infection and displayed higher levels of sequelae during the post-acute phase. Early treatment with ABT-263 lowered pulmonary viral load in aged (but not young) animals, an effect associated with lower expression of ACE2, the receptor for SARS-CoV-2. ABT-263 treatment also led to lower pulmonary and systemic levels of senescence-associated secretory phenotype factors and to amelioration of early and late lung disease. These data demonstrate the causative role of age-associated pre-existing senescent cells on COVID-19 severity and have clear clinical relevance.

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