Age and gender differences in ACE2 and TMPRSS2 expressions in oral epithelial cells

Jinfeng Peng, Jiwei Sun, Jiajia Zhao, Xuliang Deng, Fengyuan Guo, Lili Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background: SARS-CoV-2, which has brought a huge negative impact on the world since the end of 2019, is reported to invade cells using the spike (S) protein to bind to angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) receptors on human cells while the transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2) is the key protease that activates the S protein, which greatly facilitates the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into target cells. In our previous study, it was observed that the positive rate of SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acids in saliva was higher in male and the elderly COVID-19 patients, suggesting that the susceptibility of oral tissues to SARS-CoV-2 may be related to gender and age. This research aimed to further investigate the SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility in oral tissues and influencing factors from the perspective of ACE2 and TMPRSS2, which were two proteins closely associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Methods: Immunofluorescence was used to find the localization of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in oral mucosal tissues. Transcriptomic sequencing data of several datasets were then collected to analysis the relationship between the expressions of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 with the age and gender of patients. Furthermore, oral tissues from patients with different ages and genders were collected. Immunohistochemistry staining, qRT-PCR and western blot were performed to explore the relationship between expression levels of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 and patient age as well as gender. Results: The results showed that the two proteins were able to be co-expressed in the epithelial cells of oral tissues, and their expression levels were higher in the relatively elderly group than those in relatively younger group. Male oral epithelial cells exhibited higher level of TMPRSS2. Conclusions: Our findings comprehensively confirmed the existence of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in oral tissues and clarify the relationship between the expression levels with human age and gender for the first time, providing evidence for possible entry routes of SARS-CoV-2 and the influencing factors of SARS-CoV-2 colonization in oral cavity. Thus, the oral mucosa might be at potential risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2, especially in male or elderly patients. Using saliva to detect the nucleic acids of SARS-CoV-2 may be more accurate for elder male COVID-19 patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number358
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioinformatics
  • Coronavirus
  • Gender differences
  • Gene expression
  • SARS-CoV-2


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