Repurposing drugs for COVID-19 based on transcriptional response of host cells to SARS-CoV-2

1 Jun 2020  ·  Fuhai Li, Andrew P. Michelson, Randi Foraker, Ming Zhan, Philip R. O. Payne ·

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has infected over 10 million people globally with a relatively high mortality rate. There are many therapeutics undergoing clinical trials, but there is no effective vaccine or therapy for treatment thus far. After affected by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), molecular signaling of host cells plays critical roles during the life cycle of SARS-CoV-2. Thus, it is significant to identify the involved molecular signaling pathways within the host cells, and drugs targeting these molecular signaling pathways could be potentially effective for COVID-19 treatment. In this study, we aimed to identify these potential molecular signaling pathways, and repurpose existing drugs as a potentially effective treatment of COVID-19 to facilitate the therapeutic discovery, based on the transcriptional response of host cells. We first identified dysfunctional signaling pathways associated with the infection caused SARS-CoV-2 in human lung epithelial cells through analysis of the altered gene expression profiles. In addition to the signaling pathway analysis, the activated gene ontologies (GOs) and super gene ontologies were identified. Signaling pathways and GOs such as MAPK, JNK, STAT, ERK, JAK-STAT, IRF7-NFkB signaling, and MYD88/CXCR6 immune signaling were particularly identified. Based on the identified signaling pathways and GOs, a set of potentially effective drugs were repurposed by integrating the drug-target and reverse gene expression data resources. The dexamethasone was top-ranked in the prediction, which was the first reported drug to be able to significantly reduce the death rate of COVID-19 patients receiving respiratory support. The results can be helpful to understand the associated molecular signaling pathways within host cells, and facilitate the discovery of effective drugs for COVID-19 treatment.

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