Single-cell RNA-seq data analysis on the receptor ACE2 expression reveals the potential risk of different human organs vulnerable to 2019-nCoV infection


It has been known that, the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, which is considered similar to SARS-CoV, invades human cells via the receptor angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2). Moreover, lung cells that have ACE2 expression may be the main target cells during 2019-nCoV infection. However, some patients also exhibit non-respiratory symptoms, such as kidney failure, implying that 2019-nCoV could also invade other organs. To construct a risk map of different human organs, we analyzed the single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) datasets derived from major human physiological systems, including the respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, and urinary systems. Through scRNA-seq data analyses, we identified the organs at risk, such as lung, heart, esophagus, kidney, bladder, and ileum, and located specific cell types (i.e., type II alveolar cells (AT2), myocardial cells, proximal tubule cells of the kidney, ileum and esophagus epithelial cells, and bladder urothelial cells), which are vulnerable to 2019-nCoV infection. Based on the findings, we constructed a risk map indicating the vulnerability of different organs to 2019-nCoV infection. This study may provide potential clues for further investigation of the pathogenesis and route of 2019-nCoV infection.


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This work was supported in part by the China National Science and Technology Major Project for Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases (No. 2017ZX10203207 to Z.-G. H.), National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81672772 to Z.-G. H., No. 31601070 to J. H., No. 31800253 to K. C.), Interdisciplinary Program of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Nos. 2019TPA09 and ZH2018ZDA33 to Z.-G. H., J. H., and X. Z.), Shanghai Sailing Program (No. 17YF1410400 to K. C.) and Innovative Research Team of High-Level Local Universities in Shanghai.

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Correspondence to Jie Hao or Zeguang Han.

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Xin Zou, Ke Chen, Jiawei Zou, Peiyi Han, Jie Hao, and Zeguang Han declare that they have no conflict of interest. This manuscript does not involve a research protocol requiring approval by the relevant institutional review board or ethics committee.

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The authors wish it to be known that, in their opinion, the first three authors should be regarded as Joint First Authors.

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Zou, X., Chen, K., Zou, J. et al. Single-cell RNA-seq data analysis on the receptor ACE2 expression reveals the potential risk of different human organs vulnerable to 2019-nCoV infection. Front. Med. 14, 185–192 (2020).

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  • 2019-nCoV
  • ACE2
  • single-cell RNA-seq