SARS-CoV-2 Receptor Angiotensin I-Converting Enzyme Type 2 (ACE2) Is Expressed in Human Pancreatic β-Cells and in the Human Pancreas Microvasculature

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020 Nov 13:11:596898. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.596898. eCollection 2020.


Increasing evidence demonstrated that the expression of Angiotensin I-Converting Enzyme type 2 (ACE2) is a necessary step for SARS-CoV-2 infection permissiveness. In light of the recent data highlighting an association between COVID-19 and diabetes, a detailed analysis aimed at evaluating ACE2 expression pattern distribution in human pancreas is still lacking. Here, we took advantage of INNODIA network EUnPOD biobank collection to thoroughly analyze ACE2, both at mRNA and protein level, in multiple human pancreatic tissues and using several methodologies. Using multiple reagents and antibodies, we showed that ACE2 is expressed in human pancreatic islets, where it is preferentially expressed in subsets of insulin producing β-cells. ACE2 is also highly expressed in pancreas microvasculature pericytes and moderately expressed in rare scattered ductal cells. By using different ACE2 antibodies we showed that a recently described short-ACE2 isoform is also prevalently expressed in human β-cells. Finally, using RT-qPCR, RNA-seq and High-Content imaging screening analysis, we demonstrated that pro-inflammatory cytokines, but not palmitate, increase ACE2 expression in the β-cell line EndoC-βH1 and in primary human pancreatic islets. Taken together, our data indicate a potential link between SARS-CoV-2 and diabetes through putative infection of pancreatic microvasculature and/or ductal cells and/or through direct β-cell virus tropism.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; angiotensin I-converting enzyme type 2 (ACE2); beta-cell; diabetes; human pancreatic islets; inflammation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / metabolism*
  • COVID-19 / metabolism
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / virology
  • Microvessels / metabolism*
  • Microvessels / virology
  • Pancreas / metabolism*
  • Pancreas / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*


  • Cytokines
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2