There is pressing urgency to understand the pathogenesis of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus clade 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein binds angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), and in concert with host proteases, principally transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2), promotes cellular entry. The cell subsets targeted by SARS-CoV-2 in host tissues and the factors that regulate ACE2 expression remain unknown. Here, we leverage human, non-human primate, and mouse single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) datasets across health and disease to uncover putative targets of SARS-CoV-2 among tissue-resident cell subsets. We identify ACE2 and TMPRSS2 co-expressing cells within lung type II pneumocytes, ileal absorptive enterocytes, and nasal goblet secretory cells. Strikingly, we discovered that ACE2 is a human interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) in vitro using airway epithelial cells and extend our findings to in vivo viral infections. Our data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 could exploit species-specific interferon-driven upregulation of ACE2, a tissue-protective mediator during lung injury, to enhance infection.
Meta-analysis of human, non-human primate, and mouse single-cell RNA-seq datasets for putative SARS-CoV-2 targets
Type II pneumocytes, nasal secretory cells, and absorptive enterocytes are ACE2 + TMPRSS2 +
Interferon and influenza increase ACE2 in human nasal epithelia and lung tissue
Mouse Ace2 is not upregulated by interferon, raising implications for disease modeling
Analysis of single-cell RNA-seq datasets from human, non-human primate, and mouse barrier tissues identifies putative cellular targets of SARS-CoV-2 on the basis of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 expression. ACE2 represents a previously unappreciated interferon-stimulated gene in human, but not mouse, epithelial tissues, identifying anti-viral induction of a host tissue-protective mechanism, but also a potential means for viral exploitation of the host response.