Genomic and Ancestral Variation Underlies the Severity of COVID-19 Clinical Manifestation in Individuals of European Descent

Life (Basel). 2021 Sep 5;11(9):921. doi: 10.3390/life11090921.


The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is characterized by a wide spectrum of clinical phenotypes ranging from asymptomatic to symptomatic with mild or moderate presentation and severe disease. COVID-19 susceptibility, severity and recovery have demonstrated high variability worldwide. Variances in the host genetic architecture may underlie the inter-individual and population-scale differences in COVID-19 presentation. We performed a genome-wide association analysis employing the genotyping data from AncestryDNA for COVID-19 patients of European descent and used asymptomatic subjects as the control group. We identified 621 genetic variants that were significantly distinct between asymptomatic and acutely symptomatic COVID-19 patients (multiple-testing corrected p-value < 0.001). These variants were found to be associated with pathways governing host immunity, such as interferon, interleukin and cytokine signalling, and known COVID-19 comorbidities, such as obesity and cholesterol metabolism. Further, our ancestry analysis revealed that the asymptomatic COVID-19 patients possess discernibly higher proportions of the Ancestral North Eurasian (ANE) and Eastern Hunter-Gatherer (EHG) ancestry, which was introduced to Europe through Bell Beaker culture (Yamnaya related) and lower fractions of Western Hunter-Gatherer (WHG) ancestry, while severely symptomatic patients have higher fractions of WHG and lower ANE/EHG ancestral components, thereby delineating the likely ancestral differences between the two groups.

Keywords: ANE and WHG ancestries in COVID-19; ancestral genetic variation in COVID-19 patients; asymptomatic COVID-19 patients as control; genome-wide association study for COVID-19 patients; multiple regression with ancestral fractions.