Hypoxia alters the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 SARS-CoV-2 cell entry mediators in hCMEC/D3 brain endothelial cells

Guinever E. Imperio, Phetcharawan Lye, Hafsah Mughis, Hirotaka Hamada, Enrrico Bloise, Stephen J. Lye, Stephen G. Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The mechanisms by which the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) induces neurological complications remain to be elucidated. We aimed to identify possible effects of hypoxia on the expression of SARS-CoV-2 cell entry mediators, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor and transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2) protein, in human brain endothelial cells, in vitro. hCMEC/D3 cells were exposed to different oxygen tensions: 20% (Control group), 8% or 2% O2 (Hypoxia groups). Cells were harvested 6-, 24- and 48 h following hypoxic challenge for assessment of mRNA and protein, using qPCR and Western Blot. The response of the brain endothelial cells to hypoxia was replicated using modular incubator chambers. We observed an acute increase (6 h, p < 0.05), followed by a longer-term decrease (48 h, p < 0.05) in ACE2 mRNA and protein expression, accompanied by reduced expression of TMPRSS2 protein levels (48 h, p < 0.05) under the more severe hypoxic condition (2% O2). No changes in levels of von Willebrand Factor (vWF – an endothelial cell damage marker) or interleukin 6 (IL-6 – a pro-inflammatory cytokine) mRNA were observed. We conclude that hypoxia regulates brain endothelial cell ACE2 and TMPRSS2 expression in vitro, which may indicate human brain endothelial susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and subsequent brain sequelae.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104232
JournalMicrovascular Research
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Nov
Externally publishedYes


  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)
  • Blood-brain barrier (BBB)
  • Covid19
  • Human cerebral microvascular endothelial cells (hCMEC/D3)
  • Hypoxia
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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