Background. Patients with severe asthma may have a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus. Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor and enzyme proteases, transmembrane protease, serine 2 (TMPRSS2) and furin are needed for the attachment and invasion of the virus into host cells. We determined whether their expression in the airways of severe asthma patients is increased. Method. We examined the microarray mRNA expression of ACE2, TMPRSS2 and furin in the sputum, bronchial brush and bronchial biopsies of participants in the European U-BIOPRED cohort. Results. ACE2 and furin sputum gene expression was significantly increased in severe non-smoking asthma compared to mild-moderate asthma and healthy volunteers. By contrast, TMPRSS2 expression in bronchial biopsy and bronchial brushings was increased in severe smoking and ex-smoking asthmatics, and so was furin expression in bronchial brushings. Several clinical parameters including male gender, oral steroid use and nasal polyps were positively associated with ACE2, TMPRSS2 and furin expression levels. There was a higher expression of ACE2 and furin in the sputum neutrophilic molecular phenotype with inflammasome activation compared to the eosinophilic Type2-high or paucigranulocytic phenotypes. The enrichment score of the IL-13-Type2 gene signature was positively correlated with ACE2, TMPRSS2 and furin levels. Conclusion. These key determinants of virus entry into the lungs may contribute to the poorer outcomes from COVID-19 disease in patients with severe asthma.
Collection : COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv