Several comorbidities including diabetes, immune deficiency, and chronic respiratory disorders increase the risk of severe Covid-19 and fatalities among SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals. Severe Covid-19 risk among diabetes patients may reflect reduced immune response to viral infections. SARS-CoV-2 initially infects respiratory tract epithelial cells by binding to the host cell membrane ACE2, followed by proteolytic priming for cell entry by the host cell membrane serine protease TMPRSS2. Additionally, the protease FURIN facilitates cell exit of mature SARS-CoV-2 virions. Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), the major plasma serine protease inhibitor, encoded by SERPINA1, is known to promote immune response to viral infections. AAT inhibits neutrophil elastase, a key inflammatory serine protease implicated in alveolar cell damage during respiratory infections, and AAT deficiency is associated with susceptibility to lung infections. AAT is implicated in Covid-19 as it inhibits TMPRSS2, a protease essential for SARS-CoV-2 cell entry. Here we show that treatment of A549 human lung epithelial cells for 7 days with 25 mM d-galactose, an inducer of diabetic-like and oxidative stress cellular phenotypes, leads to increased mRNA levels of ACE2, TMPRSS2, and FURIN, along with reduced SERPINA1 mRNA. Together, the dysregulated transcription of these genes following d-galactose treatment suggests that chronic diabetic-like conditions may facilitate SARS-CoV-2 infection of lung epithelial cells. Our findings may in part explain the higher severe Covid-19 risk in diabetes, and highlight the need to develop special treatment protocols for diabetic patients.
- A549 lung epithelial cells