Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has a high mortality in elderly patients with pre- existing cardiovascular diseases. The cellular receptor of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), thereby implicating a link between cardiovascular diseases and SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility. Aortic stenosis (AS) represents a chronic inflammatory state with severe cardiovascular complications in the elderly, a prime condition for COVID-19 mortality. The circulating ACE2 levels were measured in 111 patients with severe AS and compared to patients with hypertension and healthy individuals.
About 4-times higher circulating ACE2 activity was found in patients with severe AS than in hypertensives or healthy individuals (103.4±5.4, n=111, 24.4±0.6, n=540 and 17.3±1.3±0.6 mU/L, n=46, respectively). Patients with severe AS were older than patients with hypertension (79±0.7 years vs. 60±0.5 years, P<0.05). Serum ACE2 activity correlated negatively with the left ventricular ejection fraction and positively with the right ventricular systolic pressure in patients with AS. In contrast, circulating ACE2 activity was independent of the blood pressure, characteristics of the stenotic aortic valve (aortic valve area, peak flow velocity), kidney function (GFR) and inflammatory state (CRP). We found no effect of RAAS inhibitory drugs on the serum ACE2 activity in this group of patients.
Our results illustrate circulating ACE2 as a potential interface between chronic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and COVID-19 susceptibility. Elderly patients with AS have markedly elevated ACE2 levels together with altered left and right ventricular functions, which may pose higher risks during COVID-19. Our clinical data do not support a role for RAAS inhibitors in regulating circulating ACE2 levels.