Although vaccines and monoclonal antibody countermeasures have reduced the morbidity and mortality associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, variants with constellations of mutations in the spike gene jeopardize their efficacy. Accordingly, antiviral interventions that are resistant to further virus evolution are needed. The host-derived cytokine interferon lambda (IFN-λ) has been proposed as a possible treatment based on studies in human coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) patients. Here, we show that IFN-λ protects against SARS-CoV-2 B.1.351 (Beta) and B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variants in three strains of conventional and human ACE2 transgenic mice. Prophylaxis or therapy with nasally delivered IFN-λ2 limits infection of historical or variant SARS-CoV-2 strains in the upper and lower respiratory tracts without causing excessive inflammation. In the lung, IFN-λ is produced preferentially in epithelial cells and acts on radio-resistant cells to protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Thus, inhaled IFN-λ may have promise as a treatment for evolving SARS-CoV-2 variants that develop resistance to antibody-based countermeasures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110799
JournalCell Reports
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 10 2022


  • CP: Immunology
  • CP: Microbiology
  • RNA sequencing
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • immunity
  • interferon
  • omicron
  • pathogenesis
  • therapy


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