Chronic lung diseases are associated with gene expression programs favoring SARS-CoV-2 entry and severity

Nat Commun. 2021 Jul 14;12(1):4314. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24467-0.


Patients with chronic lung disease (CLD) have an increased risk for severe coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) and poor outcomes. Here, we analyze the transcriptomes of 611,398 single cells isolated from healthy and CLD lungs to identify molecular characteristics of lung cells that may account for worse COVID-19 outcomes in patients with chronic lung diseases. We observe a similar cellular distribution and relative expression of SARS-CoV-2 entry factors in control and CLD lungs. CLD AT2 cells express higher levels of genes linked directly to the efficiency of viral replication and the innate immune response. Additionally, we identify basal differences in inflammatory gene expression programs that highlight how CLD alters the inflammatory microenvironment encountered upon viral exposure to the peripheral lung. Our study indicates that CLD is accompanied by changes in cell-type-specific gene expression programs that prime the lung epithelium for and influence the innate and adaptive immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / genetics
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / metabolism
  • COVID-19 / genetics
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / genetics
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Diseases / genetics*
  • Lung Diseases / pathology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • SARS-CoV-2 / physiology*
  • Transcriptome*
  • Virus Internalization*
  • Virus Replication / genetics


  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2