Studies are needed to identify useful biomarkers to assess the severity and prognosis of COVID-19 disease, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) virus. Here, we examine the levels of various plasma species of the SARS-CoV-2 host receptor, the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), in patients at different phases of the infection. Human plasma ACE2 species were characterized by immunoprecipitation and western blotting employing antibodies against the ectodomain and the C-terminal domain, using a recombinant human ACE2 protein as control. In addition, changes in the cleaved and full-length ACE2 species were also examined in serum samples derived from humanized K18-hACE2 mice challenged with a lethal dose of SARS-CoV-2. ACE2 immunoreactivity was present in human plasma as several molecular mass species that probably comprise truncated (70 and 75 kDa) and full-length forms (95, 100, 130, and 170 kDa). COVID-19 patients in the acute phase of infection (n = 46) had significantly decreased levels of ACE2 full-length species, while a truncated 70-kDa form was marginally higher compared with non-disease controls (n = 26). Levels of ACE2 full-length species were in the normal range in patients after a recovery period with an interval of 58-70 days (n = 29), while the 70-kDa species decreased. Levels of the truncated ACE2 species served to discriminate between individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 and those infected with influenza A virus (n = 17). In conclusion, specific plasma ACE2 species are altered in patients with COVID-19 and these changes normalize during the recovery phase. Alterations in ACE2 species following SARS-CoV-2 infection warrant further investigation regarding their potential usefulness as biomarkers for the disease process and to asses efficacy during vaccination.
Keywords: ACE2; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; biomarker; plasma.
© 2021 The Authors. The FASEB Journal published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.