Diabetes is associated with adverse outcomes, including death, after coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) infection. Beyond the lungs, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiologic agent of the COVID-19 pandemic, can infect a range of other tissues, including the kidney, potentially contributing to acute kidney injury in those with severe disease. We hypothesized that the renal abundance of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) 2, the cell surface receptor for SARS-CoV-2, may be modulated by diabetes and agents that block the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS).
The expression of ACE 2 was examined in 49 archival kidney biopsies from patients with diabetic kidney disease and from 12 healthy, potential living allograft donors using next-generation sequencing technology (RNA Seq).
Mean ACE 2 messenger RNA was increased approximately 2-fold in diabetes when compared with healthy control subjects (mean ± SD, 13.2±7.9 vs 7.7±3.6 reads per million reads, respectively; p=0.001). No difference in transcript abundance was noted between recipients and nonrecipients of agents that block the RAAS (12.2±6.7 vs 16.2±10.7 reads per million reads, respectively; p=0.25).
Increased ACE 2 messenger RNA in the diabetic kidney may increase the risk and/or severity of kidney infection with SARS-CoV-2 in the setting of COVID-19 disease. Further studies are needed to ascertain whether this diabetes-related overexpression is generalizable to other tissues, most notably the lungs.