Genes May Explain Some Ethnic Differences in COVID-19 Impact

By Reuters Staff

September 01, 2021

(Reuters) - The varying impacts of COVID-19 among ethnic groups might be partially due to genetic differences in the cell-surface protein the virus uses as a gateway, an international research team found.

They analyzed genetic information from more than 85,000 volunteers, including 6,274 who were tested for the new coronavirus and 1,837 who tested positive.

In the gene for ACE2 - the "receptor" protein through which the virus breaks into cells - they found rare variants that would alter the part of the protein to which the virus attaches itself.

These variant genes "appear to vary in frequency between different ethnic groups," said Jamal Nasir of the University of Northampton in the UK.

Two were more common in Europeans than in East Asians, for example. Nasir and colleagues also found variants that appear to increase or decrease an individual's ACE2 protein levels, which could affect vulnerability to infection, or severity.

People who were not infected with the coronavirus were more likely to have a variant that decreases ACE2 levels, according to a report posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review.

The next steps, Nasir said, are to confirm the findings by exposing human cells to the virus in lab experiments and to identify small molecules that can be used as drugs to block harmful genetic mutations' effects.

SOURCE: medRxiv, online August 25, 2021.