Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) shows a wide variation in expression and severity of symptoms, from very mild or no symptoms, to flu-like symptoms, and in more severe cases, to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and even death. Large differences in outcome have also been observed between males and females. The causes for this variability are likely to be multifactorial, and to include genetics. The SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the infection depends on two human genes: the human receptor angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) for cell invasion, and the serine protease TMPRSS2 for S protein priming. Genetic variation in these two genes may thus modulate an individual's genetic predisposition to infection and virus clearance. While genetic data on COVID-19 patients is being gathered, we carried out a phenome-wide association scan (PheWAS) to investigate the role of these genes in other human phenotypes in the general population. We examined 178 quantitative phenotypes including cytokines and cardio-metabolic biomarkers, as well as usage of 58 medications in 36,339 volunteers from the Lifelines population cohort, in relation to 1,273 genetic variants located in or near ACE2 and TMPRSS2. While none reached our threshold for significance, we observed several interesting suggestive associations. For example, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) near the TMPRSS2 genes were associated with thrombocytes count (p = 1.8 × 10−5). SNPs within the ACE2 gene were associated with (1) the use of angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) combination therapies (p = 5.7 × 10−4), an association that is significantly stronger in females (pdiff = 0.01), and (2) with the use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic products (p = 5.5 × 10−4). While these associations need to be confirmed in larger sample sizes, they suggest that these variants could play a role in diseases such as thrombocytopenia, hypertension, and chronic inflammation that are often observed in the more severe COVID-19 cases. Further investigation of these genetic variants in the context of COVID-19 is thus promising for better understanding of disease variability. Full results are available at https://covid19research.nl.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers)
- GENOME-WIDE ASSOCIATION
- COMBINATION THERAPY
- RECEPTOR BLOCKERS