Genetic variants are identified to increase risk of COVID-19 related mortality from UK Biobank data

Hum Genomics. 2021 Feb 3;15(1):10. doi: 10.1186/s40246-021-00306-7.


Background: The severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is highly heterogeneous. Studies have reported that males and some ethnic groups are at increased risk of death from COVID-19, which implies that individual risk of death might be influenced by host genetic factors.

Methods: In this project, we consider the mortality as the trait of interest and perform a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of data for 1778 infected cases (445 deaths, 25.03%) distributed by the UK Biobank. Traditional GWAS fails to identify any genome-wide significant genetic variants from this dataset. To enhance the power of GWAS and account for possible multi-loci interactions, we adopt the concept of super variant for the detection of genetic factors. A discovery-validation procedure is used for verifying the potential associations.

Results: We find 8 super variants that are consistently identified across multiple replications as susceptibility loci for COVID-19 mortality. The identified risk factors on chromosomes 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 16, and 17 contain genetic variants and genes related to cilia dysfunctions (DNAH7 and CLUAP1), cardiovascular diseases (DES and SPEG), thromboembolic disease (STXBP5), mitochondrial dysfunctions (TOMM7), and innate immune system (WSB1). It is noteworthy that DNAH7 has been reported recently as the most downregulated gene after infecting human bronchial epithelial cells with SARS-CoV-2.

Conclusions: Eight genetic variants are identified to significantly increase the risk of COVID-19 mortality among the patients with white British ancestry. These findings may provide timely clues and potential directions for better understanding the molecular pathogenesis of COVID-19 and the genetic basis of heterogeneous susceptibility, with potential impact on new therapeutic options.

Keywords: COVID-19; GWAS; Host genetic factors; Mortality; SARS-CoV-2; UK Biobank.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Biological Specimen Banks*
  • COVID-19 / genetics
  • COVID-19 / mortality*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology