News Release 

Racial/ethnic variation found in nasal gene expression of key protein used by SARS-CoV-2

Findings suggest one factor that may contribute to disparities in COVID-19 infection

The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Research News

New York - In a study published in JAMA today, Mount Sinai researchers report findings that shed some light on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Blacks, who have experienced rates of infection and death that are much greater, in some areas twice and three times more, than their proportion of the population. "Our study suggests one factor that may partially contribute to COVID-19 risk among Blacks," says lead author, Supinda Bunyavanich, MD, MPH, Professor of Genetics & Genomic Sciences and Pediatrics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

"The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-Cov-2, uses transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2) to facilitate entry and spread in the body," says Dr. Bunyavanich. "The degree to which a person expresses TMPRSS2 may affect how easy it is for the virus to get in and spread. We found that nasal expression of TMPRSS2 was significantly higher in Blacks than in Asians, Latinos, those of mixed race/ethnicity, and Whites. An important point is that gene expression is a dynamic reflection of personal, social, and environmental history, and many complex factors contribute to health disparities."

In this retrospective analysis, Dr. Bunyavanich and colleagues drew on a cross-sectional study of 305 patients of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, ages 4-60, within the Mount Sinai Health System, from whom they collected nasal samples.

"One of the key takeaways of our findings is the critical importance of including diverse participants in clinical trials," says Dr. Bunyavanich. "In clinical trials of TMPRSS2 inhibitors, it's possible that different effects may be seen depending on racial/ethnic background. More broadly, we also need to address the social determinants of health, economic disparities, and differential access to health care that drive racial/ethnic disparities in health."

In a previous study, also published in JAMA, Dr. Bunyavanich and colleagues studied the same cohort to better understand why COVID-19 may be less common among children. "In that study, we found age-dependent expression of the SARS-CoV-2 receptor angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in nasal epithelium, with levels lowest in young children and increasing with age into adulthood. Lower ACE2 expression may help explain why children have been largely spared in the pandemic, while possibly pointing to a potential biomarker of susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2," says Dr. Bunyavanich.

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About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai is a national and international source of unrivaled education, translational research and discovery, and collaborative clinical leadership ensuring that we deliver the highest quality care--from prevention to treatment of the most serious and complex human diseases. The Health System includes more than 7,200 physicians and features a robust and continually expanding network of multispecialty services, including more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the Top 20 Best Hospitals in the country and the Icahn School of Medicine as one of the Top 20 Best Medical Schools in country. Mount Sinai Health System hospitals are consistently ranked regionally by specialty and our physicians in the top 1% of all physicians nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

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