APOL1 Risk Variants, Acute Kidney Injury, and Death in Participants With African Ancestry Hospitalized With COVID-19 From the Million Veteran Program

JAMA Intern Med. 2022 Apr 1;182(4):386-395. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.8538.


Importance: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) confers significant risk of acute kidney injury (AKI). Patients with COVID-19 with AKI have high mortality rates.

Objective: Individuals with African ancestry with 2 copies of apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1) variants G1 or G2 (high-risk group) have significantly increased rates of kidney disease. We tested the hypothesis that the APOL1 high-risk group is associated with a higher-risk of COVID-19-associated AKI and death.

Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective cohort study included 990 participants with African ancestry enrolled in the Million Veteran Program who were hospitalized with COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021 with available genetic information.

Exposures: The primary exposure was having 2 APOL1 risk variants (RV) (APOL1 high-risk group), compared with having 1 or 0 risk variants (APOL1 low-risk group).

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was AKI. The secondary outcomes were stages of AKI severity and death. Multivariable logistic regression analyses adjusted for preexisting comorbidities, medications, and inpatient AKI risk factors; 10 principal components of ancestry were performed to study these associations. We performed a subgroup analysis in individuals with normal kidney function prior to hospitalization (estimated glomerular filtration rate ≥60 mL/min/1.73 m2).

Results: Of the 990 participants with African ancestry, 905 (91.4%) were male with a median (IQR) age of 68 (60-73) years. Overall, 392 (39.6%) patients developed AKI, 141 (14%) developed stages 2 or 3 AKI, 28 (3%) required dialysis, and 122 (12.3%) died. One hundred twenty-five (12.6%) of the participants were in the APOL1 high-risk group. Patients categorized as APOL1 high-risk group had significantly higher odds of AKI (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.95; 95% CI, 1.27-3.02; P = .002), higher AKI severity stages (OR, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.37-2.99; P < .001), and death (OR, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.22-3.72; P = .007). The association with AKI persisted in the subgroup with normal kidney function (OR, 1.93; 95% CI, 1.15-3.26; P = .01). Data analysis was conducted between February 2021 and April 2021.

Conclusions and relevance: In this cohort study of veterans with African ancestry hospitalized with COVID-19 infection, APOL1 kidney risk variants were associated with higher odds of AKI, AKI severity, and death, even among individuals with prior normal kidney function.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury* / genetics
  • Aged
  • Apolipoprotein L1 / genetics
  • Black or African American / genetics
  • COVID-19*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Veterans*


  • APOL1 protein, human
  • Apolipoprotein L1