Role of human antigen R (HuR) in the regulation of pulmonary ACE2 expression

Patients with COPD may be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because of ACE2 upregulation, the entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2. Chronic exposure to cigarette smoke, the main risk factor for COPD, increases pulmonary ACE2. How ACE2 expression is controlled is not known but may involve HuR, an RNA binding protein that increases protein expression by stabilizing mRNA. We hypothesized that HuR would increase ACE2 protein expression. We analyzed scRNA-seq data to profile ELAVL1 expression in distinct respiratory cell populations in COVID-19 and COPD patients. HuR expression and cellular localization was evaluated in COPD lung tissue by multiplex immunohistochemistry and in human lung cells by imaging flow cytometry. The regulation of ACE2 expression was evaluated using siRNA-mediated knockdown of HuR. There is a significant positive correlation between ELAVL1 and ACE2 in COPD cells. HuR cytoplasmic localization is higher in smoker and COPD lung tissue; there were also higher levels of cleaved HuR (CP-1). HuR binds to ACE2 mRNA but knockdown of HuR does not change ACE2 protein levels in primary human lung fibroblasts (HLFs). Our work is the first to investigate the association between ACE2 and HuR. Further investigation is needed to understand the mechanistic underpinning behind the regulation of ACE2 expression.

Aloufi, N., Haidar, Z., Ding, J., Nair, P., Benedetti, A., Eidelman, D. H., … Baglole, C. J. (2021). Role of Human Antigen R (HuR) in the Regulation of Pulmonary ACE2 Expression. Cells, 11(1), 22. doi:10.3390/cells11010022

This work was supported by the CIHR (168836 and 162273) and NSERC. CJB was supported by a salary award from the Fonds de recherche du Quebec-Sante (FRQS). N.A. was supported by a scholarship from Taibah University, Saudi Arabia. I.G. was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant (MOP-142399).




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