Expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 proteins in the upper and lower aerodigestive tracts of rats: implications on COVID 19 infections.

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Patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), exhibit not only respiratory symptoms but also symptoms of chemo-sensitive disorders. Cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2 depends on the binding of its spike protein to a cellular receptor named angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), and the subsequent spike protein-priming by host cell proteases, including transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2). Thus, high expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 is considered to enhance the invading capacity of SARS-CoV-2.To elucidate the underlying histological mechanisms of the aerodigestive disorders caused by SARS-CoV-2, we investigated the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 proteins using immunohistochemistry, in the aerodigestive tracts of the tongue, hard palate with partial nasal tissue, larynx with hypopharynx, trachea, esophagus, and lung of rats.Co-expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 proteins was observed in the taste buds of the tongue, nasal epithelium, trachea, bronchioles, and alveoli with varying degrees of expression. Remarkably, TMPRSS2 expression was more distinct in the peripheral alveoli than in the central alveoli. These results coincide with the reported clinical symptoms of COVID-19, such as the loss of taste, loss of olfaction, and respiratory dysfunction.A wide range of organs have been speculated to be affected by SARS-CoV-2 depending on the expression levels of ACE2 and TMPRSS2. Differential distribution of TMPRSS2 in the lung indicated the COVID-19 symptoms to possibly be exacerbated by TMPRSS2 expression. This study might provide potential clues for further investigation of the pathogenesis of COVID-19.

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