Ovulatory upregulation of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, a receptor for SARS-CoV-2, in dominant follicles of the human ovary

Administration of hCG increases the expression of ACE2 in the dominant follicle collected across the periovulatory period of the menstrual cycle and primary human granulosa cell cultures.

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VOLUME 116, ISSUE 6, P1631-1640


Thomas E. Curry Jr., Ph.D., Misung Jo, Ph.D. 



To determine the temporal expression of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), a receptor for SARS-CoV-2, in dominant follicles throughout the periovulatory period in women and the regulatory mechanisms underlying ACE2 expression in human granulosa/lutein cells (hGLC).


Experimental prospective clinical study and laboratory-based investigation.


University Medical Center and private in vitro fertilization center.


Thirty premenopausal women undergoing surgery for tubal ligation and 16 premenopausal women undergoing in vitro fertilization.


Administration of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and harvesting of preovulatory/ovulatory follicles by timed laparoscopy, and collection of granulosa/lutein cells and cumulus cells at the time of oocyte retrieval.

Main Outcome Measure(s)

Expression and localization of ACE2 in granulosa cells and dominant follicles collected throughout the periovulatory period of the menstrual cycle and in hGLC using quantitative polymerase chain reaction, immunoblotting, and immunohistochemistry.


ACE2 expression (mRNA and protein) is up-regulated in human ovulatory follicles after administration of hCG. ACE2 expression was higher in cumulus cells than in granulosa cells. hCG increased the expression of ACE2 in primary hGLC cultures; the increase was inhibited by RU486 (an antagonist for progesterone receptor and glucocorticoid receptor) and CORT125281 (a selective glucocorticoid receptor antagonist), but not by AG1478 (an EGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor) or by dexamethasone.


The hormone-regulated expression of ACE2 in granulosa cells suggests a potential role of ACE2 in the ovulatory process. These data also imply the possible impact of COVID-19 on a vital cyclic event of ovarian function and thus on women's overall reproductive health. However, SAR-CoV-2 infection in ovarian cells in vivo or in vitro has yet to be determined.

Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility® is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.