Computational Methods to Study Human Transcript Variants in COVID-19 Infected Lung Cancer Cells

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Sep 7;22(18):9684. doi: 10.3390/ijms22189684.


Microbes and viruses are known to alter host transcriptomes by means of infection. In light of recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a deeper understanding of the disease at the transcriptome level is needed. However, research about transcriptome reprogramming by post-transcriptional regulation is very limited. In this study, computational methods developed by our lab were applied to RNA-seq data to detect transcript variants (i.e., alternative splicing (AS) and alternative polyadenylation (APA) events). The RNA-seq data were obtained from a publicly available source, and they consist of mock-treated and SARS-CoV-2 infected (COVID-19) lung alveolar (A549) cells. Data analysis results show that more AS events are found in SARS-CoV-2 infected cells than in mock-treated cells, whereas fewer APA events are detected in SARS-CoV-2 infected cells. A combination of conventional differential gene expression analysis and transcript variants analysis revealed that most of the genes with transcript variants are not differentially expressed. This indicates that no strong correlation exists between differential gene expression and the AS/APA events in the mock-treated or SARS-CoV-2 infected samples. These genes with transcript variants can be applied as another layer of molecular signatures for COVID-19 studies. In addition, the transcript variants are enriched in important biological pathways that were not detected in the studies that only focused on differential gene expression analysis. Therefore, the pathways may lead to new molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis.

Keywords: 3′-UTR; COVID-19; RNA-seq; alternative polyadenylation; alternative splicing; transcript variants.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral*
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • Transcriptome / genetics*