The causes of the increased risk of severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in people with diabetes are unclear. It has been speculated that renin-angiotensin system (RAS) blockers may promote COVID-19 by increasing ACE2, which severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 uses to enter host cells, along with the host protease TMPRSS2. Taking a reverse translational approach and by combining in situ hybridization, primary cell isolation, immunoblotting, quantitative RT-PCR, and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, we studied lung and kidney ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in diabetic mice mimicking host factors linked to severe COVID-19. In healthy young mice, neither the ACE inhibitor ramipril nor the AT1 receptor blocker telmisartan affected lung or kidney ACE2 or TMPRSS2, except for a small increase in kidney ACE2 protein with ramipril. In contrast, mice with comorbid diabetes (aging, high-fat diet, and streptozotocin-induced diabetes) had heightened lung ACE2 and TMPRSS2 protein levels and increased lung ACE2 activity. None of these parameters were affected by RAS blockade. ACE2 was similarly upregulated in the kidneys of mice with comorbid diabetes compared with aged controls, whereas TMPRSS2 (primarily distal nephron) was highest in telmisartan-treated animals. Upregulation of lung ACE2 activity in comorbid diabetes may contribute to an increased risk of severe COVID-19. This upregulation is driven by comorbidity and not by RAS blockade.
© 2020 by the American Diabetes Association.