SARS-CoV-2-host chimeric RNA-sequencing reads do not necessarily arise from virus integration into the host DNA

More about Open Access at the Crick


The human genome bears evidence of extensive invasion by retroviruses and other retroelements, as well as by diverse RNA and DNA viruses. High frequency of somatic integration of the RNA virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) into the DNA of infected cells was recently suggested, based on a number of observations. One key observation was the presence of chimeric RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) reads between SARS-CoV-2 RNA and RNA transcribed from human host DNA. Here, we examined the possible origin specifically of human-SARS-CoV-2 chimeric reads in RNA-seq libraries and provide alternative explanations for their origin. Chimeric reads were frequently detected also between SARS-CoV-2 RNA and RNA transcribed from mitochondrial DNA or episomal adenoviral DNA present in transfected cell lines, which was unlikely the result of SARS-CoV-2 integration. Furthermore, chimeric reads between SARS-CoV-2 RNA and RNA transcribed from nuclear DNA were highly enriched for host exonic, rather than intronic or intergenic sequences and often involved the same, highly expressed host genes. Although these findings do not rule out SARS-CoV-2 somatic integration, they nevertheless suggest that human-SARS-CoV-2 chimeric reads found in RNA-seq data may arise during library preparation and do not necessarily signify SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcription, integration in to host DNA and further transcription.

Journal details

Volume 12
Pages 676693
Available online
Publication date