Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the cell receptor that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 binds to and uses to enter and infect human cells. COVID-19, the pandemic disease caused by the coronavirus, involves diverse pathologies beyond those of a respiratory disease, including micro-thrombosis (micro-clotting), cytokine storms, and inflammatory responses affecting many organ systems. Longer-term chronic illness can persist for many months, often well after the pathogen is no longer detected. A better understanding of the proteins that ACE2 interacts with can reveal information relevant to these disease manifestations and possible avenues for treatment. We have undertaken an approach to predict candidate ACE2 interacting proteins which uses evolutionary inference to identify a set of mammalian proteins that “coevolve” with ACE2. The approach, called evolutionary rate correlation (ERC), detects proteins that show highly correlated evolutionary rates during mammalian evolution. Such proteins are candidates for biological interactions with the ACE2 receptor. The approach has uncovered a number of key ACE2 protein interactions of potential relevance to COVID-19 pathologies. Some proteins have previously been reported to be associated with severe COVID-19, but are not currently known to interact with ACE2, while additional predicted novel ACE2 interactors are of potential relevance to the disease. Using reciprocal rankings of protein ERCs, we have identified strongly interconnected ACE2 associated protein networks relevant to COVID-19 pathologies. ACE2 has clear connections to coagulation pathway proteins, such as Coagulation Factor V and fibrinogen components FGA, FGB, and FGG, the latter possibly mediated through ACE2 connections to Clusterin (which clears misfolded extracellular proteins) and GPR141 (whose functions are relatively unknown). ACE2 also connects to proteins involved in cytokine signaling and immune response (e.g. XCR1, IFNAR2 and TLR8), and to Androgen Receptor (AR). The ERC prescreening approach has elucidated possible functions for relatively uncharacterized proteins and possible new functions for well-characterized ones. Suggestions are made for the validation of ERC-predicted ACE2 protein interactions. We propose that ACE2 has novel protein interactions that are disrupted during SARS-CoV-2 infection, contributing to the spectrum of COVID-19 pathologies.
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