A new study published in the European Heart Journal on Monday has provided scientific evidence that men have higher concentrations of ACE2 in their blood than women. ACE2, which is found in organs such as the heart, kidney, intestines and others, is the receptor required for cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
While the ACE2 receptor is normally helpful to the human body, as it stabilizes one’s blood pressure and regulates blood vessel dilation, it is also the target of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein. Once the spike protein has attached itself to the receptor, the novel coronavirus is able to invade the human cell and infect an individual.
While it has been known that more men die from COVID-19 than women, an official explanation has not yet been determined. Other health experts have guessed that the risky behavior of men may have something to do with the disparity.
"When we found that one of the strongest biomarkers, ACE2, was much higher in men than in women, I realised that this had the potential to explain why men were more likely to die from COVID-19 than women," said Iziah Sama, a doctor at University Medical Center (UMC) Groningen who co-led the study.
Findings from the recent study further advanced scientists’ presumption that the ACE2 is a key component to how COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, creeps to the lungs.
“ACE2 is a receptor on the surface of cells. It binds to the coronavirus and allows it to enter and infect healthy cells after it has been modified by another protein on the surface of the cell, called TMPRSS2,” explained Dr. Adriaan Voors, a professor of cardiology at UMC Groningen who led the study. “High levels of ACE2 are present in the lungs and, therefore, it is thought to play a crucial role in the progression of lung disorders related to COVID-19.”
The study, which relied on blood samples from several thousand participants, also found that heart failure patients prescribed drugs that target the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), did not have higher concentrations of ACE2 in their blood.
“ACE inhibitors and ARBs are widely prescribed to patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes or kidney disease,” Reuters noted.
“Our findings do not support the discontinuation of these drugs in COVID-19 patients as has been suggested by earlier reports,” explained Voors.