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DNA Methylation Architecture of the ACE2 gene in Nasal Cells

  • Author(s): Cardenas, Andres
  • Rifas-Shiman, Sheryl
  • Sordillo, Joanne
  • DeMeo, Dawn
  • Baccarelli, Andrea
  • Hivert, Marie-France
  • Gold, Diane
  • Oken, Emily
  • et al.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has led to the global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 enters cells via angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors, highly expressed in nasal epithelium with parallel high infectivity. 1,2 The nasal epigenome is in direct contact with the environment and could explain COVID-19 disparities by reflecting social and environmental influences on ACE2 regulation. We collected nasal swabs from anterior nares of 547 children, measured DNA methylation (DNAm), and tested differences at 15 ACE2 CpGs by sex, age, race/ethnicity and epigenetic age. ACE2 CpGs were differentially methylated by sex with 12 sites having lower DNAm (mean=12.71%) and 3 sites greater DNAm (mean=1.45%) among females relative to males. We observed differential DNAm at 5 CpGs for Hispanic females (mean absolute difference=3.22%) and lower DNAm at 8 CpGs for Black males (mean absolute difference=1.33%), relative to white participants. Longer DNAm telomere length was associated with greater ACE2 DNAm at 11 and 13 CpGs among males (mean absolute difference=7.86%) and females (mean absolute difference=8.21%), respectively. Nasal ACE2 DNAm differences could contribute to our understanding COVID-19 severity and disparities reflecting upstream environmental and social influences.

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