Single cell RNA sequencing of 13 human tissues identify cell types and receptors of human coronaviruses

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2020 May 21;526(1):135-140. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2020.03.044. Epub 2020 Mar 19.


The new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak from December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei, China, has been declared a global public health emergency. Angiotensin I converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), is the host receptor by SARS-CoV-2 to infect human cells. Although ACE2 is reported to be expressed in lung, liver, stomach, ileum, kidney and colon, its expressing levels are rather low, especially in the lung. SARS-CoV-2 may use co-receptors/auxiliary proteins as ACE2 partner to facilitate the virus entry. To identify the potential candidates, we explored the single cell gene expression atlas including 119 cell types of 13 human tissues and analyzed the single cell co-expression spectrum of 51 reported RNA virus receptors and 400 other membrane proteins. Consistent with other recent reports, we confirmed that ACE2 was mainly expressed in lung AT2, liver cholangiocyte, colon colonocytes, esophagus keratinocytes, ileum ECs, rectum ECs, stomach epithelial cells, and kidney proximal tubules. Intriguingly, we found that the candidate co-receptors, manifesting the most similar expression patterns with ACE2 across 13 human tissues, are all peptidases, including ANPEP, DPP4 and ENPEP. Among them, ANPEP and DPP4 are the known receptors for human CoVs, suggesting ENPEP as another potential receptor for human CoVs. We also conducted "CellPhoneDB" analysis to understand the cell crosstalk between CoV-targets and their surrounding cells across different tissues. We found that macrophages frequently communicate with the CoVs targets through chemokine and phagocytosis signaling, highlighting the importance of tissue macrophages in immune defense and immune pathogenesis.

Keywords: ACE2; Co-receptor; Coronaviruses; Macrophage; SARS-CoV-2; scRNA-seq.

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Betacoronavirus / physiology*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Organ Specificity
  • Pandemics
  • Peptide Hydrolases / genetics
  • Peptide Hydrolases / isolation & purification
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / genetics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Receptors, Virus / genetics*
  • Receptors, Virus / isolation & purification
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA*
  • Single-Cell Analysis*


  • Receptors, Virus
  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2