Upregulation of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 by particulate matter and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: a potential role in severe COVID-19

Hsin Hsien Li, Chen Chi Liu, Tien Wei Hsu, Jiun Han Lin, Jyuan Wei Hsu, Anna Fen Yau Li, Yi Chen Yeh, Shih Chieh Hung*, Han Shui Hsu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

27 Scopus citations


Background: Air pollution exposure and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) cause a poor prognosis after SARS-CoV-2 infection, but the underlying mechanisms are not well explored. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2) are the keys to the entry of SARS-CoV-2. We therefore hypothesized that air pollution exposure and IPF may increase the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in the lung alveolar region. We measured their expression levels in lung tissues of control non-IPF and IPF patients, and used murine animal models to study the deterioration of IPF caused by particulate matter (PM) and the molecular pathways involved in the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2. Results: In non-IPF patients, cells expressing ACE2 and TMPRSS2 were limited to human alveolar cells. ACE2 and TMPRSS2 were largely upregulated in IPF patients, and were co-expressed by fibroblast specific protein 1 (FSP-1) + lung fibroblasts in human pulmonary fibrotic tissue. In animal models, PM exposure increased the severity of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. ACE2 and TMPRSS2 were also expressed in FSP-1+ lung fibroblasts in bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis, and when combined with PM exposure, they were further upregulated. The severity of pulmonary fibrosis and the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 caused by PM exposure were blocked by deletion of KC, a murine homologue of IL-8, or treatment with reparixin, an inhibitor of IL-8 receptors CXCR1/2. Conclusions: These data suggested that risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 disease severity increased by air pollution exposure and underlying IPF. It can be mediated through upregulating ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in pulmonary fibroblasts, and prevented by blocking the IL-8/CXCR1/2 pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 12 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • ACE2
  • Air pollution
  • COVID-19
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis


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