Higgins CA, Nilsson-Payant BE, Bonaventure B, Kurland AP, Ye C, Yaron TM, Johnson JL, Adhikary P, Golynker I, Panis M, Danziger O, Rosenberg BR, Cantley LC, Martínez-Sobrido L, tenOever B, Johnson JR.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, drastically modifies infected cells to optimize virus replication. One such modification is the activation of the host p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, which plays a major role in inflammatory cytokine production, a hallmark of severe COVID-19. We previously demonstrated that inhibition of p38/MAPK activity in SARS-CoV-2-infected cells reduced both cytokine production and viral replication. Here, we combined quantitative genetic screening, genomics, proteomics, and phosphoproteomics to better understand mechanisms underlying the dependence of SARS-CoV-2 on the p38 pathway. We found that p38β is a critical host factor for SARS-CoV-2 replication in multiple relevant cell lines and that it functions at a step after viral mRNA expression. We identified putative host and viral p38β substrates in the context of SARS-CoV-2 infection and found that most host substrates have intrinsic antiviral activities. Taken together, this study reveals a unique proviral function for p38β and supports exploring p38β inhibitor development as a strategy toward creating a new class of COVID-19 therapies. IMPORTANCE SARS-CoV-2 is the causative agent of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed millions of lives since its emergence in 2019. SARS-CoV-2 infection of human cells requires the activity of several cellular pathways for successful replication. One such pathway, the p38 MAPK pathway, is required for virus replication and disease pathogenesis. Here, we applied systems biology approaches to understand how MAPK pathways benefit SARS-CoV-2 replication to inform the development of novel COVID-19 drug therapies.