Alu retrotransposons and COVID-19 susceptibility and morbidity

Human Genomics
Manci LiPeter A Larsen


SARS-CoV-2 has spread rapidly across the world and is negatively impacting the global human population. COVID-19 patients display a wide variety of symptoms and clinical outcomes, including those attributed to genetic ancestry. Alu retrotransposons have played an important role in human evolution, and their variants influence host response to viral infection. Intronic Alus regulate gene expression through several mechanisms, including both genetic and epigenetic pathways. With respect to SARS-CoV-2, an intronic Alu within the ACE gene is hypothesized to be associated with COVID-19 susceptibility and morbidity. Here, we review specific Alu polymorphisms that are of particular interest when considering host response to SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially polymorphic Alu insertions in genes associated with immune response and coagulation/fibrinolysis cascade. We posit that additional research focused on Alu-related pathways could yield novel biomarkers capable of predicting clinical outcomes as well as patient-specific treatment strategies for COVID-19 and related infectious diseases.


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