Although vaccines have been evaluated and approved for SARS-CoV-2 infection prevention, there remains a lack of effective treatments to reduce the mortality of COVID-19 patients already infected with SARS-CoV-2. The global data on COVID-19 showed that men have a higher mortality rate than women. We further observed that the proportion of mortality of females increases starting from around the age of 55 significantly. Thus, sex is an essential factor associated with COVID-19 mortality, and sex related genetic factors could be interesting mechanisms and targets for COVID-19 treatment. However, the associated sex factors and signaling pathways remain unclear. Here, we propose to uncover the potential sex associated factors using systematic and integrative network analysis. The unique results indicated that estrogens, e.g., estrone and estriol, (1) interacting with ESR1/2 receptors, (2) can inhibit SARS-CoV-2 caused inflammation and immune response signaling in host cells; and (3) estrogens are associated with the distinct fatality rates between male and female COVID-19 patients. Specifically, a high level of estradiol protects young female COVID-19 patients, and estrogens drop to an extremely low level in females after about 55 years of age causing the increased fatality rate of women. In conclusion, estrogen, interacting with ESR1/2 receptors, is an essential sex factor that protects COVID-19 patients from death by inhibiting inflammation and immune response caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. Moreover, medications boosting the down-stream signaling of ESR1/ESR2, or inhibiting the inflammation and immune-associated targets on the signaling network can be potentially effective or synergistic combined with other existing drugs for COVID-19 treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9462
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


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