The ABO blood group locus and a chromosome 3 gene cluster associate with SARS-CoV-2 respiratory failure in an Italian-Spanish genome-wide association analysis

Respiratory failure is a key feature of severe Covid-19 and a critical driver of mortality, but for reasons poorly defined affects less than 10% of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. Methods. We included 1,980 patients with Covid-19 respiratory failure at seven centers in the Italian and Spanish epicenters of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in Europe (Milan, Monza, Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona) for a genome-wide association analysis. After quality control and exclusion of population outliers, 835 patients and 1,255 population-derived controls from Italy, and 775 patients and 950 controls from Spain were included in the final analysis. In total we analyzed 8,582,968 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and conducted a meta-analysis of both case-control panels. Results. We detected cross-replicating associations with rs11385942 at chromosome 3p21.31 and rs657152 at 9q34, which were genome-wide significant (P<5×10-8) in the meta-analysis of both study panels, odds ratio [OR], 1.77; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.48 to 2.11; P=1.14×10-10 and OR 1.32 (95% CI, 1.20 to 1.47; P=4.95×10-8), respectively. Among six genes at 3p21.31, SLC6A20 encodes a known interaction partner with angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The association signal at 9q34 was located at the ABO blood group locus and a blood-group-specific analysis showed higher risk for A-positive individuals (OR=1.45, 95% CI, 1.20 to 1.75, P=1.48×10-4) and a protective effect for blood group O (OR=0.65, 95% CI, 0.53 to 0.79, P=1.06×10-5). Conclusions. We herein report the first robust genetic susceptibility loci for the development of respiratory failure in Covid-19. Identified variants may help guide targeted exploration of severe Covid-19 pathophysiology.

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