Abstract

ACE2 is a type I membrane protein with extracellular carboxypeptidase activity displaying a broad tissue distribution with highest expression levels at the brush border membrane (BBM) of small intestine enterocytes and a lower expression in stomach and colon. In small intestinal mucosa, ACE2 mRNA expression appears to increase with age and to display higher levels in patients taking ACE-inhibitors (ACE-I). There, ACE2 protein heterodimerizes with the neutral amino acid transporter Broad neutral Amino acid Transporter 1 (B0AT1) (SLC6A19) or the imino acid transporter Sodium-dependent Imino Transporter 1 (SIT1) (SLC6A20), associations that are required for the surface expression of these transport proteins. These heterodimers can form quaternary structures able to function as binding sites for SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoproteins. The heterodimerization of the carboxypeptidase ACE2 with B0AT1 is suggested to favor the direct supply of substrate amino acids to the transporter, but whether this association impacts the ability of ACE2 to mediate viral infection is not known. B0AT1 mutations cause Hartnup disorder, a condition characterized by neutral aminoaciduria and, in some cases, pellagra-like symptoms, such as photosensitive rash, diarrhea, and cerebellar ataxia. Correspondingly, the lack of ACE2 and the concurrent absence of B0AT1 expression in small intestine causes a decrease in l-tryptophan absorption, niacin deficiency, decreased intestinal antimicrobial peptide production, and increased susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in mice. Thus, the abundant expression of ACE2 in small intestine and its association with amino acid transporters appears to play a crucial role for the digestion of peptides and the absorption of amino acids and, thereby, for the maintenance of structural and functional gut integrity.

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