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Detection of SARS-COV-2 receptor ACE-2 mRNA in thyroid cells: a clue for COVID-19-related subacute thyroiditis

  • Rotondi, M.1, 2
  • Coperchini, F.1
  • Ricci, G.1
  • Denegri, M.3
  • Croce, L.1, 2
  • Ngnitejeu, S. T.4
  • Villani, L.5
  • Magri, F.1, 2
  • Latrofa, F.6
  • Chiovato, L.1, 2
  • 1 Laboratory for Endocrine Disruptors, Unit of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Istituti Clinici Scientifici Maugeri IRCCS, 27100 Pavia, PV Italy
  • 2 University of Pavia,
  • 3 Unit of Molecular Cardiology, Istituti Clinici Scientifici Maugeri IRCCS, 27100 Pavia, Italy
  • 4 Department of General and Minimally Invasive Surgery, Istituti Clinici Scientifici Maugeri IRCCS, 27100 Pavia, PV Italy
  • 5 Unit of Pathology, Istituti Clinici Scientifici Maugeri IRCCS, 27100 Pavia, PV Italy
  • 6 University of Pisa,
Published Article
Journal of Endocrinological Investigation
Publication Date
Oct 06, 2020
DOI: 10.1007/s40618-020-01436-w
PMID: 33025553
PMCID: PMC7538193
PubMed Central


Purpose SARS-COV-2 is a pathogenic agent belonging to the coronavirus family, responsible for the current global world pandemic. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) is the receptor for cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2. ACE-2 is a type I transmembrane metallo-carboxypeptidase involved in the Renin-Angiotensin pathway. By analyzing two independent databases, ACE-2 was identified in several human tissues including the thyroid. Although some cases of COVID-19-related subacute thyroiditis were recently described, direct proof for the expression of the ACE-2 mRNA in thyroid cells is still lacking. Aim of the present study was to investigate by RT-PCR whether the mRNA encoding for ACE-2 is present in human thyroid cells. Methods RT-PCR was performed on in vitro ex vivo study on thyroid tissue samples (15 patients undergoing thyroidectomy for benign thyroid nodules) and primary thyroid cell cultures. Results The ACE-2 mRNA was detected in all surgical thyroid tissue samples ( n = 15). Compared with two reporter genes (GAPDH: 0.052 ± 0.0026 Cycles−1; β-actin: 0.044 ± 0.0025 Cycles−1; ACE-2: 0.035 ± 0.0024 Cycles−1), the mean level of transcript expression for ACE-2 mRNA was abundant. The expression of ACE-2 mRNA in follicular cells was confirmed by analyzing primary cultures of thyroid cells, which expressed the ACE-2 mRNA at levels similar to tissues. Conclusions The results of the present study demonstrate that the mRNA encoding for the ACE-2 receptor is expressed in thyroid follicular cells, making them a potential target for SARS-COV-2 entry. Future clinical studies in patients with COVID-19 will be required for increase our understanding of the thyroid repercussions of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

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