Pan-cancer analysis of RNA expression of ANGIOTENSIN-I-CONVERTING ENZYME 2 reveals high variability and possible impact on COVID-19 clinical outcomes


Andrew Elliott, Michelle Saul, Jia Zeng, John L. Marshall, Edward S. Kim, Misako Nagasaka, Heinz-Josef Lenz, Lee Schwartzberg, David Spetzler, Jim Abraham, Joanne Xiu, Phillip Stafford & W. Michael Korn


Patients with cancer demonstrate particularly poor outcomes from COVID-19. To provide information essential for understanding the biologic underpinnings of this association, we analyzed whole-transcriptome RNA expression data obtained from a large cohort of cancer patients to characterize expression of ACE2, TMPRSS2, and other proteases that are involved in viral attachment to and entry into target cells. We find substantial variability of expression of these factors across tumor types and identify subpopulations expressing ACE2 at very high levels. In some tumor types, especially in gastrointestinal cancers, expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 is highly correlated. Furthermore, we found infiltration with T-cell and natural killer (NK) cell infiltration to be particularly pronounced in ACE2-high tumors. These findings suggest that subsets of cancer patients exist with gene expression profiles that may be associated with heightened susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection, in whom malignant tumors function as viral reservoir and possibly promote the frequently detrimental hyper-immune response in patients infected with this virus.

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