Genetic and non-genetic factors affecting the expression of COVID-19-relevant genes in the large airway epithelium

NHLBI SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures In COPD Study (SPIROMICS)

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20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The large airway epithelial barrier provides one of the first lines of defense against respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. Substantial inter-individual variability in individual disease courses is hypothesized to be partially mediated by the differential regulation of the genes that interact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus or are involved in the subsequent host response. Here, we comprehensively investigated non-genetic and genetic factors influencing COVID-19-relevant bronchial epithelial gene expression. Methods: We analyzed RNA-sequencing data from bronchial epithelial brushings obtained from uninfected individuals. We related ACE2 gene expression to host and environmental factors in the SPIROMICS cohort of smokers with and without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and replicated these associations in two asthma cohorts, SARP and MAST. To identify airway biology beyond ACE2 binding that may contribute to increased susceptibility, we used gene set enrichment analyses to determine if gene expression changes indicative of a suppressed airway immune response observed early in SARS-CoV-2 infection are also observed in association with host factors. To identify host genetic variants affecting COVID-19 susceptibility in SPIROMICS, we performed expression quantitative trait (eQTL) mapping and investigated the phenotypic associations of the eQTL variants. Results: We found that ACE2 expression was higher in relation to active smoking, obesity, and hypertension that are known risk factors of COVID-19 severity, while an association with interferon-related inflammation was driven by the truncated, non-binding ACE2 isoform. We discovered that expression patterns of a suppressed airway immune response to early SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared to other viruses, are similar to patterns associated with obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, which may thus contribute to a COVID-19-susceptible airway environment. eQTL mapping identified regulatory variants for genes implicated in COVID-19, some of which had pheWAS evidence for their potential role in respiratory infections. Conclusions: These data provide evidence that clinically relevant variation in the expression of COVID-19-related genes is associated with host factors, environmental exposures, and likely host genetic variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number66
JournalGenome medicine
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The project officers from the Lung Division of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute were Lisa Postow, PhD, and Lisa Viviano, BSN; SPIROMICS was supported by contracts from the NIH/NHLBI (HHSN268200900013C, HHSN268200900014C, HHSN268200900015C, HHSN268200900016C, HHSN268200900017C, HHSN268200900018C, HHSN268200900019C, HHSN268200900020C), grants from the NIH/NHLBI (U01 HL137880 and U24 HL141762), and supplemented by contributions made through the Foundation for the NIH and the COPD Foundation from AstraZeneca/MedImmune; Bayer; Bellerophon Therapeutics; Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Chiesi Farmaceutici S.p.A.; Forest Research Institute, Inc.; GlaxoSmithKline; Grifols Therapeutics, Inc.; Ikaria, Inc.; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation; Nycomed GmbH; ProterixBio; Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Sanofi; Sunovion; Takeda Pharmaceutical Company; and Theravance Biopharma and Mylan.

Funding Information:
The authors thank the SPIROMICS participants and participating physicians, investigators, and staff for making this research possible. More information about the study and how to access SPIROMICS data is available at www.spiromics.org. The authors would like to acknowledge the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill BioSpecimen Processing Facility for sample processing, storage, and sample disbursements (http://bsp.web.unc.edu/).

Funding Information:
Molecular data for the Trans-Omics in Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Genome Sequencing for “NHLBI TOPMed: SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures In COPD Study” (phs001927) was performed at the Broad Institute Genomics Platform (HHSN268201600034I). Core support including centralized genomic read mapping and genotype calling, along with variant quality metrics and filtering were provided by the TOPMed Informatics Research Center (3R01HL-117626-02S1; contract HHSN268201800002I). Core support including phenotype harmonization, data management, sample-identity QC, and general program coordination were provided by the TOPMed Data Coordinating Center (R01HL-120393; U01HL-120393; contract HHSN268201800001I). We gratefully acknowledge the studies and participants who provided biological samples and data for TOPMed. A list of banner authors for the NHLBI Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) Consortium is provided in the Additional file .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Keywords

  • ACE2
  • Bronchial epithelium
  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • eQTL

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