Once inhaled, SARS-CoV-2 particles enter respiratory ciliated cells by interacting with angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Understanding the nature of ACE2 within airway tissue has become a recent focus particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airway mucociliary tissue was generated in-vitro using primary human nasal epithelial cells and the air-liquid interface (ALI) model of differentiation. Using ALI tissue, three distinct transcript variants of ACE2 were identified. One transcript encodes the documented full-length ACE2 protein. The other two transcripts are unique truncated isoforms, that until recently had only been predicted to exist via sequence analysis software. Quantitative PCR revealed that all three transcript variants are expressed throughout differentiation of airway mucociliary epithelia. Immunofluorescence analysis of individual ACE2 protein isoforms exogenously expressed in cell-lines revealed similar abilities to localize in the plasma membrane and interact with the SARS CoV 2 spike receptor binding domain. Immunohistochemistry on differentiated ALI tissue using antibodies to either the N-term or C-term of ACE2 revealed both overlapping and distinct signals in cells, most notably only the ACE2 C-term antibody displayed plasma-membrane localization. We also demonstrate that ACE2 protein shedding is different in ALI Tissue compared to ACE2-transfected cell lines, and that ACE2 is released from both the apical and basal surfaces of ALI tissue. Together, our data highlights various facets of ACE2 transcripts and protein in airway mucociliary tissue that may represent variables which impact an individual's susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection, or the severity of Covid-19.
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