Relevance between COVID-19 and host genetics of immune response

Ibrahim Taher, Abdulrahman Almaeen, Amany Ghazy, Mohamed Abu-Farha, Arshad Mohamed Channanath, Sumi Elsa John, Prashantha Hebbar, Hossein Arefanian, Jehad Abubaker, Fahd Al-Mulla, Thangavel Alphonse Thanaraj

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was caused by the newly emerged corona virus (2019-nCoV alias SARS-CoV-2) that resembles the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus (SARS-CoV). SARS-CoV-2, which was first identified in Wuhan (China) has spread globally, resulting in a high mortality worldwide reaching ~4 million deaths to date. As of first week of July 2021, ~181 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported. SARS-CoV-2 infection is mediated by the binding of virus spike protein to Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2). ACE2 is expressed on many human tissues; however, the major entry point is probably pneumocytes, which are responsible for synthesis of alveolar surfactant in lungs. Viral infection of pneumocytes impairs immune responses and leads to, apart from severe hypoxia resulting from gas exchange, diseases with serious complications. During viral infection, gene products (e.g. ACE2) that mediate viral entry, antigen presentation, and cellular immunity are of crucial importance. Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) I and II present antigens to the CD8+ and CD4+ T lymphocytes, which are crucial for immune defence against pathogens including viruses. HLA gene variants affect the recognition and presentation of viral antigenic peptides to T-cells, and cytokine secretion. Additionally, endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidases (ERAP) trim antigenic precursor peptides to fit into the binding groove of MHC class I molecules. Polymorphisms in ERAP genes leading to aberrations in ERAP's can alter antigen presentation by HLA class I molecules resulting in aberrant T-cell responses, which may affect susceptibility to infection and/or activation of immune response. Polymorphisms from these genes are associated, in global genetic association studies, with various phenotype traits/disorders many of which are related to the pathogenesis and progression of COVID-19; polymorphisms from various genes are annotated in genotype-tissue expression data as regulating the expression of ACE2, HLA's and ERAP's. We review such polymorphisms and illustrate variations in their allele frequencies in global populations. These reported findings highlight the roles of genetic modulators (e.g. genotype changes in ACE2, HLA's and ERAP's leading to aberrations in the expressed gene products or genotype changes at other genes regulating the expression levels of these genes) in the pathogenesis of viral infection.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSaudi Journal of Biological Sciences
Early online date17 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jul 2021


  • Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2
  • Coronavirus
  • Endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase
  • Human leukocyte antigens
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Virus internalization


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