Introduction: Angiotensin-converting-enzyme-2 (ACE-2) was demonstrated to be the receptor for cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2. ACE-2 mRNA was identified in several human tissues and recently also in thyroid cells in vitro. Purpose: Aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of pro-inflammatory cytokines on the ACE-2 mRNA levels in human thyroid cells in primary cultures. Methods: Primary thyroid cell cultures were treated with IFN-γ and TNF-α alone or in combination for 24 h. ACE-2 mRNA levels were measured by RT-PCR. As a control, the levels of IFN-γ inducible chemokine (CXCL10) were measured in the respective cell culture supernatants. Results: The mean levels of ACE-2 mRNA increased after treatment with IFN-γ and TNF-α in all the thyroid cell preparations, while the combination treatment did not consistently synergically increase ACE-2-mRNA. At difference, CXCL10 was consistently increased by IFN-γ and synergically further increased by the combination treatment with IFN-γ + TNF-α, with respect to IFN-γ alone. Conclusions: The results of the present study show that IFN-γ and, to a lesser extent TNF-α consistently increase ACE-2 mRNA levels in NHT primary cultures. More interestingly, the combined stimulation (proven to be effective according to the synergic effect registered for CXCL10) produces different responses in terms of ACE-2 mRNA modulation. These results would suggest that elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines could facilitate the entering of the virus in cells by further increasing ACE-2 expression and/or account for the different degree of severity of SARS-COV-2 infection. This hypothesis deserves to be confirmed by further specific studies.
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