SARS-CoV-2 replicates in host cell cytoplasm. People with cystic fibrosis, considered at risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19, instead, tend to show mild symptoms. We, thus, analyzed at the ultrastructural level the morphological effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection on wild-type (WT) and F508del (ΔF) CFTR-expressing CFBE41o- cells at early and late time points post infection. We also investigated ACE2 expression through immune-electron microscopy. At early times of infection, WT cells exhibited double-membrane vesicles, representing typical replicative structures, with granular and vesicular content, while at late time points, they contained vesicles with viral particles. ∆F cells exhibited double-membrane vesicles with an irregular shape and degenerative changes and at late time of infection, showed vesicles containing viruses lacking a regular structure and a well-organized distribution. ACE2 was expressed at the plasma membrane and present in the cytoplasm only at early times in WT, while it persisted even at late times of infection in ΔF cells. The autophagosome content also differed between the cells: in WT cells, it comprised vesicles associated with virus-containing structures, while in ΔF cells, it comprised ingested material for lysosomal digestion. Our data suggest that CFTR-modified cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 have impaired organization of normo-conformed replicative structures.
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