The global COVID-19 pandemic is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus entering human cells using angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as a cell surface receptor. ACE2 is shed to the circulation, and a higher plasma level of soluble ACE2 (sACE2) might reflect a higher cellular expression of ACE2. The present study explored the associations between sACE2 and clinical factors, cardiovascular biomarkers, and genetic variability.
Methods and results
Plasma and DNA samples were obtained from two international cohorts of elderly patients with atrial fibrillation (n = 3999 and n = 1088). The sACE2 protein level was measured by the Olink Proteomics® Multiplex CVD II96 × 96 panel. Levels of the biomarkers high-sensitive cardiac troponin T (hs-cTnT), N-terminal probrain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF-15), C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, D-dimer, and cystatin-C were determined by immunoassays. Genome-wide association studies were performed by Illumina chips. Higher levels of sACE2 were statistically significantly associated with male sex, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and older age. The sACE2 level was most strongly associated with the levels of GDF-15, NT-proBNP, and hs-cTnT. When adjusting for these biomarkers, only male sex remained associated with sACE2. We found no statistically significant genetic regulation of the sACE2 level.
Male sex and clinical or biomarker indicators of biological ageing, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are associated with higher sACE2 levels. The levels of GDF-15 and NT-proBNP, which are associated both with the sACE2 level and a higher risk for mortality and cardiovascular disease, might contribute to better identification of risk for severe COVID-19 infection.