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Proteins detectable in peripheral blood may influence COVID-19 susceptibility or severity. However, understanding which circulating proteins are etiologically involved is difficult because their levels may be influenced by COVID-19 itself and are also subject to confounding factors. To identify circulating proteins influencing COVID-19 susceptibility and severity we undertook a large-scale two-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) study, since this study design can rapidly scan hundreds of circulating proteins and reduces bias due to reverse causation and confounding. We identified genetic determinants of 931 circulating proteins in 28,461 SARS-CoV-2 uninfected individuals, retaining only single nucleotide polymorphism near the gene encoding the circulating protein. We found that a standard deviation increase in OAS1 levels was associated with reduced COVID-19 death or ventilation (N = 4,336 cases / 623,902 controls; OR = 0.54, P = 7x10-8), COVID-19 hospitalization (N = 6,406 / 902,088; OR = 0.61, P = 8x10-8) and COVID-19 susceptibility (N = 14,134 / 1,284,876; OR = 0.78, P = 8x10-6). Results were consistent in multiple sensitivity analyses. We then measured OAS1 levels in 504 patients with repeated plasma samples (N=1039) with different COVID-19 outcomes and found that increased OAS1 levels in a non-infectious state were associated with protection against very severe COVID-19, hospitalization and susceptibility. Further analyses suggested that a Neanderthal isoform of OAS1 affords this protection. Thus, evidence from MR and a case-control study supported a protective role for OAS1 in COVID-19 outcomes. Available medicines, such as phosphodiesterase-12 inhibitors, increase OAS1 and could be explored for their effect on COVID-19 susceptibility and severity.

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