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Shared genetic etiology between idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and COVID-19 severity

By Joao Fadista, Luke M Kraven, Juha Karjalainen, Shea J Andrews, Frank Geller, The COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, J Kenneth Baillie, Louise V Wain, Gisli Jenkins, Bjarke Feenstra

Posted 16 Dec 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.15.20248279

Background. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a complex lung disease, characterized by progressive lung scarring. Severe COVID-19 is associated with substantial pneumonitis and has a number of shared major risk factors with IPF. This study aimed to determine the genetic correlation between IPF and severe COVID-19 and assess a potential causal role of genetically increased risk of IPF on COVID-19 severity. Methods. We performed a Mendelian randomisation (MR) study for IPF causality in COVID-19. Genetic variants associated with IPF susceptibility (P<5x10-8) in previous genome-wide association studies (GWAS) were used as instrumental variables (IVs). Effect estimates of those IVs on COVID-19 severity were gathered from the GWAS meta-analysis by the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative. The genetic correlation between IPF and COVID-19 severity was estimated with linkage disequilibrium (LD) score regression. Findings. We detected a positive genetic correlation of IPF with COVID-19 severity (rg=0.31 [95% CI 0.04-0.57], P = 0.023). The MR estimates for severe COVID-19 did not reveal any genetic association (OR 1.05, [95% CI 0.92-1.20], P = 0.43). However, outlier analysis revealed that the IPF risk allele rs35705950 at MUC5B had a different effect compared with the other variants. When rs35705950 was excluded, MR results provided evidence that genetically increased risk of IPF has a causal effect on COVID-19 severity (OR 1.21, [95% CI 1.06-1.38], P = 4.24x10-3). Furthermore, the IPF risk-allele at MUC5B showed an apparent protective effect against COVID-19 hospitalization only in older adults (OR 0.86, [95% CI 0.73-1.00], P = 2.99x10-2) . Interpretation. The strongest genetic determinant of IPF, rs35705950 at MUC5B, seems to confer protection against COVID-19, whereas the combined effect of all other IPF risk loci seem to confer risk of COVID-19 severity. The observed effect of rs35705950 could either be due to protective effects of mucin over-production on the airways or a consequence of selection bias due to a patient group that is heavily enriched for the rs35705950 T undertaking strict self-isolation. Due to the diverse impact of IPF causal variants on SARS-CoV-2 infection, further investigation is needed to address this apparent paradox between variance at MUC5B and other IPF genetic risk factors.

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