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Specific ACE2 Expression in Cholangiocytes May Cause Liver Damage After 2019-nCoV Infection

By Xiaoqiang Chai, Longfei Hu, Yan Zhang, Weiyu Han, Zhou Lu, Aiwu Ke, Jian Zhou, Guoming Shi, Nan Fang, Jia Fan, Jiabin Cai, Jue Fan, Fei Lan

Posted 04 Feb 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.02.03.931766

A newly identified coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, has been posing significant threats to public health since December 2019. ACE2, the host cell receptor for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS), has recently been demonstrated in mediating 2019-nCoV infection. Interestingly, besides the respiratory system, substantial proportion of SARS and 2019-nCoV patients showed signs of various degrees of liver damage, the mechanism and implication of which have not yet been determined. Here, we performed an unbiased evaluation of cell type specific expression of ACE2 in healthy liver tissues using single cell RNA-seq data of two independent cohorts, and identified specific expression in cholangiocytes. The results indicated that virus might directly bind to ACE2 positive cholangiocytes but not necessarily hepatocytes. This finding suggested the liver abnormalities of SARS and 2019-nCoV patients may not be due to hepatocyte damage, but cholangiocyte dysfunction and other causes such as drug induced and systemic inflammatory response induced liver injury. Our findings indicate that special care of liver dysfunction should be installed in treating 2019-nCoV patients during the hospitalization and shortly after cure.

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