Comparative ACE2 variation and primate COVID-19 risk

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Amanda Dawn MelinJ. P. Higham


The emergence of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which in humans is highly infectious and leads to the potentially fatal disease COVID-19, has caused tens of thousands of fatalities and huge global disruption. The viral infection may also represent an existential threat to our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates, many of which have already been reduced to small and endangered populations. The virus engages the host cell receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2), through the receptor binding domain (RBD) on the spike protein. The contact surface of ACE2 displays amino acid residues that are critical for virus recognition, and variations at these critical residues are likely to modulate infection susceptibility across species. While infection studies have shown that rhesus macaques exposed to the virus develop COVID-19-like symptoms, the susceptibility of other nonhuman primates is unknown. Here, we show that all apes, including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, and all African and Asian monkeys, exhibit the same set of twelve key amino acid residues as human ACE2. Monkeys in the Americas, and some tarsiers, lemurs and lorisoids, differ at significant contact residues, and protein modeling predi...Continue Reading

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