UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Gene expression network analysis provides potential targets against SARS‑CoV‑2 Hernández Cordero, Ana I.; Li, Xuan; Yang, Chen Xi; Milne, Stephen; Bossé, Yohan; Joubert, Philippe; Timens, Wim; van den Berge, Maarten; Nickle, David; Hao, Ke; et al.


Cell entry of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19, is facilitated by host cell angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2). We aimed to identify and characterize genes that are co-expressed with ACE2 and TMPRSS2, and to further explore their biological functions and potential as druggable targets. Using the gene expression profles of 1,038 lung tissue samples, we performed a weighted gene correlation network analysis (WGCNA) to identify modules of co-expressed genes. We explored the biology of co-expressed genes using bioinformatics databases, and identifed known drug-gene interactions. ACE2 was in a module of 681 co-expressed genes; 10 genes with moderate-high correlation with ACE2 (r > 0.3, FDR< 0.05) had known interactions with existing drug compounds. TMPRSS2 was in a module of 1,086 co-expressed genes; 31 of these genes were enriched in the gene ontology biologic process ‘receptor-mediated endocytosis’, and 52 TMPRSS2-correlated genes had known interactions with drug compounds. Dozens of genes are co-expressed with ACE2 and TMPRSS2, many of which have plausible links to COVID-19 pathophysiology. Many of the co-expressed genes are potentially targetable with existing drugs, which may accelerate the development of COVID-19 therapeutics.

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