Noof Aloufi 1 , 2 , Hussein Traboulsi 1 , Jun Ding 1 , 5 , Gregory J. Fonseca 1 , 3 , Parameswaran Nair 6 , Steven K. Huang 7 , Sabah N. A. Hussain 1 , 2 , David H. Eidelman 3 , Carolyn J. Baglole , 1 , 2 , 3 , 4
28 October 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is associated with severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome leading to death in susceptible individuals. For those who recover, post-COVID-19 complications may include development of pulmonary fibrosis. Factors contributing to disease severity or development of complications are not known. Using computational analysis with experimental data, we report that idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)- and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)-derived lung fibroblasts express higher levels of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the receptor for SARS-CoV-2 entry and part of the renin-angiotensin system that is antifibrotic and anti-inflammatory. In preclinical models, we found that chronic exposure to cigarette smoke, a risk factor for both COPD and IPF and potentially for SARS-CoV-2 infection, significantly increased pulmonary ACE2 protein expression. Further studies are needed to understand the functional implications of ACE2 on lung fibroblasts, a cell type that thus far has received relatively little attention in the context of COVID-19.