Anosmia is common in COVID-19 patients, lasting for weeks or months following recovery. The biological mechanism underlying olfactory deficiency in COVID-19 does not involve direct damage to nasal olfactory neurons, which do not express the proteins required for SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study suggested that anosmia results from downregulation of olfactory receptors. We hypothesized that anosmia in COVID-19 may also reflect SARS-CoV-2 infection-driven elevated expression of regulator of G protein signaling 2 (RGS2), a key regulator of odorant receptors, thereby silencing their signaling. To test our hypothesis, we analyzed gene expression of nasopharyngeal swabs from SARS-CoV-2 positive patients and non-infected controls (two published RNA-sequencing datasets, 580 individuals). Our analysis found upregulated RGS2 expression in SARS-CoV-2 positive patients (FC = 14.5, Padj = 1.69 × 10−5 and FC = 2.4; Padj = 0.001, per dataset). Additionally, RGS2 expression was strongly correlated with PTGS2, IL1B, CXCL8, NAMPT and other inflammation markers with substantial upregulation in early infection. These observations suggest that upregulated expression of RGS2 may underlie anosmia in COVID-19 patients. As a regulator of numerous G-protein coupled receptors, RGS2 may drive further neurological symptoms of COVID-19. Studies are required for clarifying the cellular mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 infection drives the upregulation of RGS2 and other genes implicated in inflammation. Insights on these pathway(s) may assist in understanding anosmia and additional neurological symptoms reported in COVID-19 patients.
- nasopharyngeal epithelial cells