Missense variants in ACE2 are predicted to encourage and inhibit interaction with SARS-CoV-2 Spike and contribute to genetic risk in COVID-19

Stuart A. MacGowan (Lead / Corresponding author), Geoffrey J. Barton (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


SARS-CoV-2 invades host cells via an endocytic pathway that begins with the interaction of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike glycoprotein (S-protein) and human Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Genetic variability in ACE2 may be one factor that mediates the broad-spectrum severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 outcomes. We investigated the capacity of ACE2 variation to influence SARS-CoV-2 infection with a focus on predicting the effect of missense variants on the ACE2 SARS-CoV-2 S-protein interaction. We validated the mCSM-PPI2 variant effect prediction algorithm with 26 published ACE2 mutant SARS-CoV S-protein binding assays and found it performed well in this closely related system (True Positive Rate = 0.7, True Negative Rate = 1). Application of mCSM-PPI2 to ACE2 missense variants from the Genome Aggregation Consortium Database (gnomAD) identified three that are predicted to strongly inhibit or abolish the S-protein ACE2 interaction altogether (p.Glu37Lys, p.Gly352Val and p.Asp355Asn) and one that is predicted to promote the interaction (p.Gly326Glu). The S-protein ACE2 inhibitory variants are expected to confer a high degree of resistance to SARS-CoV-2 infection whilst the S-protein ACE2 affinity enhancing variant may lead to additional susceptibility and severity. We also performed in silico saturation mutagenesis of the S-protein ACE2 interface and identified a further 38 potential missense mutations that could strongly inhibit binding and one more that is likely to enhance binding (Thr27Arg). A conservative estimate places the prevalence of the strongly protective variants between 12-70 per 100,000 population but there is the possibility of higher prevalence in local populations or those underrepresented in gnomAD. The probable interplay between these ACE2 affinity variants and ACE2 expression polymorphisms is highlighted as well as gender differences in penetrance arising from ACE2’s situation on the X-chromosome. It is also described how our data can help power future genetic association studies of COVID-19 phenotypes and how the saturation mutant predictions can help design a mutant ACE2 with tailored S-protein affinity, which may be an improvement over a current recombinant ACE2 that is undergoing clinical trial.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2020


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