Posts Tagged ‘TRMPSS2’

Placenta lacks molecules required for COVID-19 infection

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

The pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has affected more than 10 million people, including pregnant women. To date, no consistent evidence for the vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has been found. The placenta serves as the lungs, gut, kidneys, and liver of the fetus. This fetal organ also has major endocrine actions that modulate maternal physiology and, importantly, together with the extraplacental chorioamniotic membranes shield the fetus against microbes from hematogenous dissemination and from invading the amniotic cavity.


Most pathogens that cause hematogenous infections in the mother are not able to reach the fetus, which is largely due to the potent protective mechanisms provided by placental cells (i.e. trophoblast cells: syncytiotrophoblasts and cytotrophoblasts). Yet, some of these pathogens such as Toxoplasma gondii, Rubella virus, herpesvirus (HSV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Zika virus (ZIKV), among others, are capable of crossing the placenta and infecting the fetus, causing congenital disease.


The placental membranes that contain the fetus and amniotic fluid lack the messenger RNA (mRNA) molecule required to manufacture the ACE2 receptor, the main cell surface receptor used by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to cause infection. These placental tissues also lack mRNA needed to make an enzyme, called TMPRSS2, that SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter a cell. Both the receptor and enzyme are present in only miniscule amounts in the placenta, suggesting a possible explanation for why SARS-CoV-2 has only rarely been found in fetuses or newborns of women infected with the virus, according to the study authors.


The single-cell transcriptomic analysis presented by the researchers provides evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to infect the placenta and fetus since its canonical receptor and protease, ACE2 and TRMPSS2, are only minimally expressed by the human placenta throughout pregnancy. In addition, it was shown that the SARS-CoV-2 receptors are not expressed by the chorioamniotic membranes in the third trimester. However, viral receptors utilized by CMV, ZIKV, and others are highly expressed by the human placental tissues.


Transcript levels do not always correlate with protein expression, but the data of the present study indicates a low likelihood of placental infection and vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2. However, it is still possible that the expression of these proteins is much higher in individuals with pregnancy complications related with the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, which can alter the expression of ACE2. The cellular receptors and mechanisms that could be exploited by SARS-CoV-2 are still under investigation.
















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