SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Impairs Endothelial Function via Downregulation of ACE 2

SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) infection relies on the binding of S protein (Spike glycoprotein) to ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) 2 in the host cells. Vascular endothelium can be infected by SARS-CoV-2, which triggers mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production and glycolytic shift. Paradoxically, ACE2 is protective in the cardiovascular system, and SARS-CoV-1 S protein promotes lung injury by decreasing the level of ACE2 in the infected lungs. In the current study, we show that S protein alone can damage vascular endothelial cells (ECs) by downregulating ACE2 and consequently inhibiting mitochondrial function.

We administered a pseudovirus expressing S protein (Pseu-Spike) to Syrian hamsters intratracheally. Lung damage was apparent in animals receiving Pseu-Spike, revealed by thickening of the alveolar septa and increased infiltration of mononuclear cells. AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) phosphorylates ACE2 Ser-680, MDM2 (murine double minute 2) ubiquitinates ACE2 Lys-788, and crosstalk between AMPK and MDM2 determines the ACE2 level. In the damaged lungs, levels of pAMPK (phospho-AMPK), pACE2 (phospho-ACE2), and ACE2 decreased but those of MDM2 increased. Furthermore, complementary increased and decreased phosphorylation of eNOS (endothelial NO synthase) Thr-494 and Ser-1176 indicated impaired eNOS activity. These changes of pACE2, ACE2, MDM2 expression, and AMPK activity in endothelium were recapitulated by in vitro experiments using pulmonary arterial ECs infected with Pseu-Spike which was rescued by treatment with N-acetyl-L-cysteine, a reactive oxygen species inhibitor

Informed consent disclosure to vaccine trial subjects of risk of COVID-19 vaccines worsening clinical disease


Aims of the study: Patient comprehension is a critical part of meeting medical ethics standards of informed consent in study designs. The aim of the study was to determine if sufficient literature exists to require clinicians to disclose the specific risk that COVID-19 vaccines could worsen disease upon exposure to challenge or circulating virus.