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Susceptibilities of human ACE2 genetic variants in coronavirus infection

By Wenlin Ren, Yunkai Zhu, Jun Lan, Hedi Chen, Yuyan Wang, Hongyang Shi, Fei Feng, Da-Yuan Chen, Brianna Close, Xiaomin Zhao, Jianping Wu, Boxue Tian, Zhenghong Yuan, Dongming Zhou, Mohsan Saeed, Xinquan Wang, Rong Zhang, Qiang Ding

Posted 19 Jul 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.18.452826

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, has resulted in more than 1603 million cases worldwide and 3.4 million deaths (as of May 2021), with varying incidences and death rates among regions/ethnicities. Human genetic variation can affect disease progression and outcome, but little is known about genetic risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection. The coronaviruses SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 and HCoV-NL63 all utilize the human protein angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the receptor to enter cells. We hypothesized that the genetic variability in ACE2 may contribute to the variable clinical outcomes of COVID-19. To test this hypothesis, we first conducted an in silico investigation of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the coding region of ACE2 gene. We then applied an integrated approach of genetics, biochemistry and virology to explore the capacity of select ACE2 variants to bind coronavirus spike protein and mediate viral entry. We identified the ACE2 D355N variant that restricts the spike protein-ACE2 interaction and consequently limits infection both in vitro and in vivo. In conclusion, ACE2 polymorphisms could modulate susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, which may lead to variable disease severity.

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