Aging whole blood transcriptome reveals candidate genes for SARS-CoV-2-related vascular and immune alterations
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Abstract: The risk of severe COVID-19 increases with age as older patients are at highest risk. Thus, there is an urgent need to identify how severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) interacts with blood components during aging. We investigated the whole blood transcriptome from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) database to explore differentially expressed genes (DEGs) translated into proteins interacting with viral proteins during aging. From 22 DEGs in aged blood, FASLG, CTSW, CTSE, VCAM1, and BAG3 were associated with immune response, inflammation, cell component and adhesion, and platelet activation/aggregation. Males and females older than 50 years old overexpress FASLG, possibly inducing a hyperinflammatory cascade. The expression of cathepsins (CTSW and CTSE) and the anti-apoptotic co-chaperone molecule BAG3 also increased throughout aging in both genders. By exploring single-cell RNA-sequencing data from peripheral blood of SARS-CoV-2-infected patients, we found FASLG and CTSW expressed in natural killer cells and CD8 + T lymphocytes, whereas BAG3 was expressed mainly in CD4 + T cells, naive T cells, and CD14 + monocytes. In addition, T cell exhaustion was associated with increased expression of CCL4L2 and DUSP4 over blood aging. LAG3, PDCD1, TIGIT, VCAM1, HLA-DRA, and TOX also increased in individuals aged 60–69 years old; conversely, the RGS2 gene decreased with aging. We further identified a distinct gene expression profile associated with type I interferon signaling following blood aging. These results revealed changes in blood molecules potentially related to SARS-CoV-2 infection throughout aging, emphasizing them as therapeutic candidates for aggressive clinical manifestation of COVID-19. Key messages: • Prediction of host-viral interactions in the whole blood transcriptome during aging. • Expression levels of FASLG, CTSW, CTSE, VCAM1, and BAG3 increase in aged blood. • Blood interactome reveals targets involved with immune response, inflammation, and blood clots. • SARS-CoV-2-infected patients with high viral load showed FASLG overexpression. • Gene expression profile associated with T cell exhaustion and type I interferon signaling were affected with blood aging.
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