Mass Spectrometric Analysis of Urine from COVID-19 Patients for Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Viral Antigen and to Study Host Response

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Journal of Proteome Research


SARS-CoV-2 infection has become a major public health burden and affects many organs including lungs, kidneys, the liver, and the brain. Although the virus is readily detected and diagnosed using nasopharyngeal swabs by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), detection of its presence in body fluids is fraught with difficulties. A number of published studies have failed to detect viral RNA by RT-PCR methods in urine. Although microbial identification in clinical microbiology using mass spectrometry is undertaken after culture, here we undertook a mass spectrometry-based approach that employed an enrichment step to capture and detect SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein directly from urine of COVID-19 patients without any culture. We detected SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein-derived peptides from 13 out of 39 urine samples. Further, a subset of COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative urine samples validated by mass spectrometry were used for the quantitative proteomics analysis. Proteins with increased abundance in urine of SARS-CoV-2 positive individuals were enriched in the acute phase response, regulation of complement system, and immune response. Notably, a number of renal proteins such as podocin (NPHS2), an amino acid transporter (SLC36A2), and sodium/glucose cotransporter 5 (SLC5A10), which are intimately involved in normal kidney function, were decreased in the urine of COVID-19 patients. Overall, the detection of viral antigens in urine using mass spectrometry and alterations of the urinary proteome could provide insights into understanding the pathogenesis of COVID-19.

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