ACE2 and TMPRSS2 distribution in the respiratory tract of different animal species and its correlation with SARS-CoV-2 tissue tropism

Microbiol Spectr. 2024 Feb 6;12(2):e0327023. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.03270-23. Epub 2024 Jan 17.


A wide range of animal species show variable susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2; however, host factors associated with varied susceptibility remain to be defined. Here, we examined whether susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and virus tropism in different animal species are dependent on the expression and distribution of the virus receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and the host cell factor transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2). We cataloged the upper and lower respiratory tract of multiple animal species and humans in a tissue-specific manner and quantitatively evaluated the distribution and abundance of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 mRNA in situ. Our results show that: (i) ACE2 and TMPRSS2 mRNA are abundant in the conduction portion of the respiratory tract, (ii) ACE2 mRNA occurs at a lower abundance compared to TMPRSS2 mRNA, (iii) co-expression of ACE2-TMPRSS2 mRNAs is highest in those species with the highest susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection (i.e., cats, Syrian hamsters, and white-tailed deer), and (iv) expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 mRNA was not altered following SARS-CoV-2 infection. Our results demonstrate that while specific regions of the respiratory tract are enriched in ACE2 and TMPRSS2 mRNAs in different animal species, this is only a partial determinant of susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection.IMPORTANCESARS-CoV-2 infects a wide array of domestic and wild animals, raising concerns regarding its evolutionary dynamics in animals and potential for spillback transmission of emerging variants to humans. Hence, SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals has significant public health relevance. Host factors determining animal susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 are vastly unknown, and their characterization is critical to further understand susceptibility and viral dynamics in animal populations and anticipate potential spillback transmission. Here, we quantitatively assessed the distribution and abundance of the two most important host factors, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 and transmembrane serine protease 2, in the respiratory tract of various animal species and humans. Our results demonstrate that while specific regions of the respiratory tract are enriched in these two host factors, they are only partial determinants of susceptibility. Detailed analysis of additional host factors is critical for our understanding of the underlying mechanisms governing viral susceptibility and reservoir hosts.

Keywords: ACE2; SARS-CoV-2; TMPRSS2; airway; domestic animal species; in situ hybridization; respiratory tract; tropism; viral pathogenesis.

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Animals
  • COVID-19*
  • Deer*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Respiratory System
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • Tropism


  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • TMPRSS2 protein, human
  • Serine Endopeptidases