Deciphering the link between Diabetes mellitus and SARS-CoV-2 infection through differential targeting of microRNAs in the human pancreas

J Endocrinol Invest. 2021 Oct 20;1-14. doi: 10.1007/s40618-021-01693-3. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) severity and Diabetes mellitus affect each other bidirectionally. However, the cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) infection on the incidence of diabetes is unclear. In the SARS-CoV-2-infected cells, host microRNAs (miRNAs) may target the native gene transcripts as well as the viral genomic and subgenomic RNAs. Here, we investigated the role of miRNAs in linking Diabetes to SARS-CoV-2 infection in the human pancreas.

Methods: Differential gene expression and disease enrichment analyses were performed on an RNA-Seq dataset of human embryonic stem cell-derived (hESC) mock-infected and SARS-CoV-2-infected pancreatic organoids to obtain the dysregulated Diabetes-associated genes. The miRNA target prediction for the Diabetes-associated gene transcripts and the SARS-CoV-2 RNAs has been made to determine the common miRNAs targeting them. Minimum Free Energy (MFE) analysis was done to identify the miRNAs, preferably targeting SARS-CoV-2 RNAs over the Diabetes-associated gene transcripts.

Results: The gene expression and disease enrichment analyses of the RNA-Seq data have revealed five biomarker genes, i.e., CP, SOCS3, AGT, PSMB8 and CFB that are associated with Diabetes and get significantly upregulated in the pancreas following SARS-CoV-2-infection. Four miRNAs, i.e., hsa-miR-298, hsa-miR-3925-5p, hsa-miR-4691-3p and hsa-miR-5196-5p, showed preferential targeting of the SARS-CoV-2 genome over the cell's Diabetes-associated messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in the human pancreas.

Conclusion: Our study proposes that the differential targeting of the Diabetes-associated host genes by the miRNAs may lead to diabetic complications or new-onset Diabetes that can worsen the condition of COVID-19 patients.

Keywords: COVID-19; Diabetes mellitus; Gene–gene interaction; Minimum Free Energy; SARS-CoV-2; miRNAs.