The world is facing an unprecedented crisis in the form of a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Nearly every country in the world is affected and many report staggering infection and mortality rates, making research into how this virus works urgent and necessary. This crisis makes the study of vulnerable populations and potential treatment pathways especially important, and two recent papers studying a key entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2 are especially exciting.
Recent research has identified angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) as one of the most important receptors that SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect target cells. Involved in maintaining blood pressure, among other functions, this receptor is best known from the lungs but is also found in several other tissues known to be targets of SARS-CoV-2 infection, such as the kidneys. With such a receptor identified, research has turned to studying populations in order to potentially predict the course of SARS-CoV-2 infections and identify sub-populations that may be more vulnerable. In fact, some recent studies have identified sub-populations with elevated expression of ACE-2 as potentially being more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection since the virus has more entry points into their cells. Research like this may begin to help us better understand some of the patterns observed in SARS-CoV-2 infections.
SARS-Cov-2 and ACE-2: A Connection?
In a recent preprint publication from the University of South Carolina, researchers investigated the expression of ACE-2 in human lung tissue across several microarray data sets, aiming to identify demographic patterns in ACE-2 expression that could potentially inform future prevention and treatment efforts.1 Two of these data sets were generated with Applied Biosystems GeneChip gene expression microarrays. Their strongest finding was that habitual tobacco smokers have highly elevated ACE-2 expression in their lungs relative to non-smokers. This study observed no similar relationship between ACE-2 expression and ethnic background, gender or age.
This complements another recent study from the University of British Columbia where Leung et al. used a much larger and more varied data set, also generated with Applied Biosystems GeneChip gene expression arrays, and found the same result.2 This group additionally found that chronic lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also come with higher-than-average expression of ACE-2 in lung tissue. These same subpopulations—people with chronic lung or cardiovascular conditions and smokers or former smokers—also make up the majority of deaths attributed to SARS-CoV-2 infection, strongly suggesting that the elevated expression of ACE-2 in the lower airways caused by COPD and smoking may help explain why these cases have much more severe symptoms and worse outcomes than others. Combined with the previous study, this research highlights the importance of both smoking and COPD for SARS-CoV-2 risk assessment, as well as the role that Applied Biosystems gene expression arrays have to play in ongoing research into understanding SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Learn more about our family of next-generation, transcriptome-level microarrays, the Applied Biosystems Clariom assays, for rapid, affordable whole-transcriptome analysis to help you identify key pathways impacted by SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Explore additional SARS-CoV-2 research solutions from Thermo Fisher at thermofisher.com/coronavirus.
- Cai, G. (2020) Tobacco-use disparity in gene expression of ACE2, the receptor of 2019-nCov. Preprints 2020020051 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202002.0051.v1).
- Leung, J.M. et al. (2020) ACE-2 expression in the small airway epithelia of smokers and COPD patients: implications for COVID-19. Eur Repir J (doi: 10.1183/13993003.00688-2020).
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