Insight into molecular mechanisms underlying hepatic dysfunction in severe COVID-19 patients using systems biology

Sarah Musa Hammoudeh, Arabella Musa Hammoudeh, Poorna Manasa Bhamidimarri, Bassam Mahboub, Rabih Halwani, Qutayba Hamid, Mohamed Rahmani, Rifat Hamoudi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a pandemic contributing to more than 105 million cases and more than 2.3 million deaths worldwide, was described to be frequently accompanied by extrapulmonary manifestations, including liver dysfunction. Liver dysfunction and elevated liver enzymes were observed in about 53% of COVID-19 patients. AIM To gain insight into transcriptional abnormalities in liver tissue of severe COVID-19 patients that may result in liver dysfunction. METHODS The transcriptome of liver autopsy samples from severe COVID-19 patients against those of non-COVID donors was analyzed. Differentially expressed genes were identified from normalized RNA-seq data and analyzed for the enrichment of functional clusters and pathways. The differentially expressed genes were then compared against the genetic signatures of liver diseases including cirrhosis, fibrosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and hepatitis A/B/C. Gene expression of some differentially expressed genes was assessed in the blood samples of severe COVID-19 patients with liver dysfunction using qRT-PCR. RESULTS Analysis of the differential transcriptome of the liver tissue of severe COVID-19 patients revealed a significant upregulation of transcripts implicated in tissue remodeling including G-coupled protein receptors family genes, DNAJB1, IGF2, EGFR, and HDGF. Concordantly, the differential transcriptome of severe COVID-19 liver tissues substantially overlapped with the disease signature of liver diseases characterized with pathological tissue remodeling (liver cirrhosis, Fibrosis, NAFLD, and hepatitis A/B/C). Moreover, we observed a significant suppression of transcripts implicated in metabolic pathways as well as mitochondrial function, including cytochrome P450 family members, ACAD11, CIDEB, GNMT, and GPAM. Consequently, drug and xenobiotics metabolism pathways are significantly suppressed suggesting a decrease in liver detoxification capacity. In correspondence with the RNA-seq data analysis, we observed a significant upregulation of DNAJB1 and HSP90AB1 as well as significant downregulation of CYP39A1 in the blood plasma of severe COVID-19 patients with liver dysfunction. CONCLUSION Severe COVID-19 patients appear to experience significant transcriptional shift that may ensue tissue remodeling, mitochondrial dysfunction and lower hepatic detoxification resulting in the clinically observed liver dysfunction.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)2850-2870
Number of pages21
JournalWorld Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number21
StatePublished - 7 Jun 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Drug metabolism
  • Hepatic detoxification
  • Hepatic dysfunction
  • Metabolic pathways
  • Tissue remodeling


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