Single-cell transcriptome analysis of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) associated gene ACE2 expression in normal and non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA) human male testes

Sci China Life Sci. 2020 Jul;63(7):1006-1015. doi: 10.1007/s11427-020-1705-0. Epub 2020 Apr 30.


Being infected by SARS-CoV-2 may cause damage to multiple organs in patients, such as the lung, liver and heart. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), reported as a SARS-CoV-2 receptor, is also expressed in human male testes. This suggests a potential risk in human male reproductive system. However, the characteristics of ACE2-positive cells and the expression of other SARS-CoV-2 process-related genes are still worthy of further investigation. Here, we performed singlecell RNA seq (scRNA-seq) analysis on 853 male embryo primordial germ cells (PGCs) and 2,854 normal testis cells to assess the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on the male reproductive system from embryonic stage to adulthood. We also collected and constructed the scRNA-seq library on 228 Sertoli cells from three non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA) patients to assess the effects at disease state. We found that ACE2 expressing cells existed in almost all testis cell types and Sertoli cells had highest expression level and positive cells ratio. Moreover, ACE2 was also expressed in human male PGCs. In adulthood, the level of ACE2 expression decreased with the increase of age. We also found that ACE2 positive cells had high expressions of stress response and immune activation-related genes. Interestingly, some potential SARS-CoV-2 process-related genes such as TMPRSS2, BSG, CTSL and CTSB had different expression patterns in the same cell type. Furthermore, ACE2 expression level in NOA donors' Sertoli cells was significantly decreased. Our work would help to assess the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the male reproductive system.

Keywords: ACE2; COVID-19; NOA; SARS-CoV-2; TMPRSS2; adult; fetal; normal; testis cells.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Azoospermia / complications
  • Azoospermia / genetics*
  • Azoospermia / metabolism
  • Betacoronavirus / metabolism
  • Betacoronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections* / complications
  • Coronavirus Infections* / physiopathology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / virology
  • Embryonic Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Embryonic Germ Cells / virology
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics*
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / genetics*
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / metabolism
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / complications
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / physiopathology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / virology
  • Receptors, Virus / genetics
  • Receptors, Virus / metabolism
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sertoli Cells / metabolism
  • Sertoli Cells / virology
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics
  • Spermatogenesis / physiology
  • Testis / cytology
  • Testis / metabolism*
  • Testis / virology*


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

Supplementary concepts

  • Azoospermia, Nonobstructive