Cell free ACE2 RNA: A potential biomarker of COVID-19 severity
Al Heialy, Saba
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Abstract: Despite the downward trend of COVID-19 pandemic and increased immunity of the general population, COVID19 is still an elusive disease with risks due to emerging variants. Fast and reliable diagnosis of COVID-19 disease would allow better therapeutic interventions for patients at risk to develop more severe outcomes. Cell-free RNAs (cfRNAs) have been proven to be an effective biomarker in cancer and infectious diseases. It has been reported that cfRNAs are amplified in the bloodstream of these patients and at earlier stages of the disease, reflecting tissue damage. Hence, we hypothesize that cfRNAs may serve as a potential indicator of COVID-19 disease severity. To our knowledge, this is the first report to display a significant link between COVID-19 severity and cfRNA of angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE2), the receptor for SARS-CoV-2 virus. qRT-PCR analysis of liquid biopsies from COVID-19 patients (n = 82) displayed a significant increase in ACE2-cfRNA levels in patients with severe manifestations. This finding correlated with blood biomarkers (ANC, WBC, and Creatinine) that were also significantly increased in these patients. We previously showed that bronchial cells from obese subjects express higher ACE2 levels, hence, we further analysed the involvement of obesity as a main contributor to severe outcomes. We confirm a significant increase of ACE2-cfRNA in the plasma of obese/overweight (Ob/Ov) COVID-19 patients compared to lean subjects, with no observed significant change in blood biomarkers. These findings suggest that monitoring ACE2-cfRNAs, as a biomarker, during COVID-19 infection may allow for better disease management, specifically for severe-COVID-19 patients.