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In Applied immunohistochemistry & molecular morphology : AIMM

The membrane protein angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) has gained notoriety as the receptor for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Prior evidence has shown ACE2 is expressed within the liver but its function has not been fully discerned. Here, we utilized novel methodology to assess ACE2 expression in pediatric immune-mediated liver disease to better understand its presence in liver diseases and its role during infections such as COVID-19. We stained liver tissue with ACE2-specific immunofluorescent antibodies, analyzed via confocal microscopy. Computational deep learning-based segmentation models identified nuclei and cells, allowing the quantification of mean cellular and cytosolic immunofluorescent. Spatial transcriptomics provided high-throughput gene expression analysis in tissue to determine cellular composition for ACE2 expression. ACE2 plasma expression was quantified via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. High ACE2 expression was seen at the apical surface of cholangiocytes, with lower expression within hepatocyte cytosol and nonparenchymal cells (P<0.001). Children with liver disease had higher ACE2 hepatic expression than pediatric control tissue (P<0.001). Adult control tissue had higher expression than pediatric control (P<0.001). Plasma ACE2 was not found to be statistically different between samples. Spatial transcriptomics identified cell composition of ACE2-expressing spots containing antibody-secreting cells. Our results show ACE2 expression throughout the liver, with strongest localization to cholangiocyte membranes. Machine learning can be used to rapidly identify hepatic cellular components for histologic analysis. ACE2 expression in the liver may be increased in pediatric liver disease. Future work is needed to better understand the role of ACE2 in chronic disease and acute infections.

Stevens James P, Kolachala Vasantha L, Joshi Gaurav N, Nagpal Sini, Gibson Greg, Gupta Nitika A