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Aging and disease    2021, Vol. 12 Issue (1) : 42-49     DOI: 10.14336/AD.2020.1112
Short Communication |
Prediction of SARS-CoV Interaction with Host Proteins during Lung Aging Reveals a Potential Role for TRIB3 in COVID-19
Diogo de Moraes1, Brunno Vivone Buquete Paiva1,2, Sarah Santiloni Cury1, Raissa Guimarães Ludwig4, João Pessoa Araújo Junior3, Marcelo Alves da Silva Mori4, Robson Francisco Carvalho1,*
1Department of Structural and Functional Biology, Institute of Biosciences, São Paulo State University (UNESP), Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil.
2Faculty of Medicine, São Paulo State University, UNESP, Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil.
3Department of Chemical and Biological Sciences, Institute of Biosciences, São Paulo State University (UNESP), Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil.
4Department of Biochemistry and Tissue Biology, Institute of Biology, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Campinas, SP, Brazil.
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COVID-19 is prevalent in the elderly. Old individuals are more likely to develop pneumonia and respiratory failure due to alveolar damage, suggesting that lung senescence may increase the susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and replication. Considering that human coronavirus (HCoVs; SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV) require host cellular factors for infection and replication, we analyzed Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) data to test whether lung aging is associated with transcriptional changes in human protein-coding genes that potentially interact with these viruses. We found decreased expression of the gene tribbles homolog 3 (TRIB3) during aging in male individuals, and its protein was predicted to interact with HCoVs nucleocapsid protein and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. Using publicly available lung single-cell data, we found TRIB3 expressed mainly in alveolar epithelial cells that express SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2. Functional enrichment analysis of age-related genes, in common with SARS-CoV-induced perturbations, revealed genes associated with the mitotic cell cycle and surfactant metabolism. Given that TRIB3 was previously reported to decrease virus infection and replication, the decreased expression of TRIB3 in aged lungs may help explain why older male patients are related to more severe cases of the COVID-19. Thus, drugs that stimulate TRIB3 expression should be evaluated as a potential therapy for the disease.

Keywords COVID-19      SARS-CoV-2      tribbles homolog 3      α-hydroxylinoleic acid      lung aging     
Corresponding Authors: Carvalho Robson Francisco   
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These authors contributed equally to this work.

Just Accepted Date: 01 December 2020   Issue Date: 11 January 2021
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Moraes Diogo de
Paiva Brunno Vivone Buquete
Cury Sarah Santiloni
Ludwig Raissa Guimarães
Junior João Pessoa Araújo
Mori Marcelo Alves da Silva
Carvalho Robson Francisco
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Moraes Diogo de,Paiva Brunno Vivone Buquete,Cury Sarah Santiloni, et al. Prediction of SARS-CoV Interaction with Host Proteins during Lung Aging Reveals a Potential Role for TRIB3 in COVID-19[J]. Aging and disease, 2021, 12(1): 42-49.
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Figure 1.  Lung gene expression of TRIB3, which is translated into a protein that potentially interacts with SARS-CoV-2 proteins, decreases in male individuals during aging. (A) Heatmap of mean TMM (Trimmed Mean of M-values) expression of males found as differentially expressed (DEGs; mean expression) in, at least, one age-group when compared to young adults (20-29 yo). These DEGs were found with males and females pooled. Rows were clustered using Euclidian distance. Clusters A and C contain genes that increase or decrease with age, respectively. TRIB3, HAPLN2, and the top 5 DEGs found in each age range are highlighted. (B) Venn diagram of DEGs during aging shared with the corresponding proteins that potentially interact with SARS-CoV-2 (arrows). Boxplots of gene expression levels (TMM) of separated or pooled sexes (C and E). Boxplot detailing the expression of genes that are well-recognized biomarkers of cellular division and senescence CDKN2A and MKI67 in the lung (D). * P < 0.05, ** P < 0.001, and # P < 0.0001: statistical significance vs. young adults from GTEx v8 for Dunn’s test (males: 20-29 yo (n = 20), 30-39 yo (n = 27), 40-49 yo (n = 53), 50-59 yo (n = 135), 60-69 yo (n = 103), 70-79 yo (n = 11); females: 20-29 yo (n = 13), 30-39 yo (n = 9), 40-49 yo (n = 29), 50-59 yo (n = 52), 60-69 yo (n = 59), 70-79 yo (n = 4).
Figure 2.  Single-cell gene expression analyses of TRIB3, HAPLN2, and ACE2 in lung cells. (A) Unsupervised clustering demonstrates different cell populations identified in non-diseased lung human samples in a t-distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (tSNE) plot, as described previously [25]. Grey dots represent single cells from pulmonary fibrosis samples that were not included in the present analysis. Single-cell gene expression of TRIB3 (B), HAPLN2 (C), and ACE2 (D) in different lung cell populations. The images were generated using the dataset [25], available at The range represents the minimum and maximum expression. (E) Violin plots of TRIB3 expression levels in lung single-cells.
Figure 3.  Over-represented genes altered in aging and SARS-CoV infection are associated with mitotic cell cycle and surfactant metabolism. (A) Venn diagram of differentially expressed genes (corresponding proteins) during aging shared with SARS-CoV-induced perturbations in host gene expression. Values outside the diagram: PPI enrichment P-value. (B) PPI network based on the genes that decreased expression during aging and are up-regulated in SARS-CoV-induced perturbations in host gene expression. Table S8 contains the complete list of over-represented terms.
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