As the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) progresses, prognostic markers for early identification of high-risk individuals are an urgent medical need. Italy has one of the highest numbers of SARS-CoV-2-related deaths and one of the highest mortality rates. Worldwide, a more severe course of COVID-19 is associated with older age, comorbidities, and male sex. Hence, we searched for possible genetic components of COVID-19 severity among Italians by looking at expression levels and variants in ACE2 and TMPRSS2 genes, crucial for viral infection.

Exome and SNP-array data from a large Italian cohort were used to compare the rare-variants burden and polymorphisms frequency with Europeans and East Asians. Moreover, we looked into gene expression databases to check for sex-unbalanced expression.

While we found no significant evidence that ACE2 is associated with disease severity/sex bias, TMPRSS2 levels and genetic variants proved to be possible candidate disease modulators, prompting for rapid experimental validations on large patient cohorts.