Intestinal Protein Characterisation of SARS-CoV-2 Entry Molecules ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Fatal COVID-19 Infection

Milly J McAllister, Kathryn Kirkwood, Shaun C Chuah, Emily J Thompson, Jennifer A Cartwright, Clark D Russell, David A Dorward, Christopher D Lucas, Gwo-Tzer Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 contributes to morbidity and mortality mainly as a result of immune-pathology in the lungs. Recent data has shown multi-system involvement with widespread viral tropism. Here we present a detailed intestinal protein characterisation of SARS-Cov-2 entry molecules ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in patients with inflammatory bowel disease ([IBD]; ulcerative colitis [UC] and Crohn's disease [CD]) with age- and sex-matched non-IBD controls, and in those with fatal COVID-19 infection. In our dataset, ACE2 and TMPRSS2 displayed a membrane enterocyte staining in the ileum (due to presence of brush border/microvilli) in contrast to a cytoplasmic pattern in the colon. We also showed a high ACE2/low TMPRSS2 expression pattern in the ileum with a reverse trend in the colon. In UC, colonic ACE2 and TMPRSS2 are cytoplasmic in nature, with significantly higher ACE2 staining intensity compared to non-IBD controls. In inflamed and unaffected IBD mucosa, ileal and colonic enterocyte ACE2 and TMPRSS2 expressions are not modified in the histologic presence of inflammation. We observed immune cells within the lamina propria that expressed ACE2 and TMPRSS2, at higher frequencies in IBD when compared to non-IBD controls. These were identified as plasma cells with multiple myeloma oncogene 1/interferon regulatory factor 4 (MUM1/IRF4) expression. We further analysed the gut histology of six fatal COVID-19 cases, with no difference in colonic and ileal ACE2/TMRPSS2 staining (compared to non-IBD controls) and identified ACE2 + lamina propria plasma cells. Of interest, in this COVID-19 cohort, there was no histologic evidence gut inflammation despite known evidence of viral tropism within the enterocytes. Our data provides evidence for tissue expression of entry molecules ACE2 and TMPRSS2 including a close apposition to plasma cells - both pointing towards a role of the gut in the antecedent immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-572
Number of pages6
Issue number2
Early online date25 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Oct 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • COVID-19
  • Colitis, Ulcerative
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Serine Endopeptidases


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