Gene expression profiling of MERS-CoV-London strain

(1) Saline High School, Saline, Michigan, (2) Thomas Jefferson High School, Alexandria, Virginia, (3) Lynbrook High School, San Jose, California, (4) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a variety of coronavirus identified in 2012. The purpose of our research was to identify unique regulation of protein coding genes in cells infected by the MERS-CoV-London strain (LoCov). To address this, we utilized genetic data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), analyzed differential gene expression, and performed analysis with other tools. We used GEO2R to run a comparison between mock and infected groups, then input the statistically significant genes into String-db, which provides a database of protein-protein interactions and associations that we used to analyze the biological interactions of our protein-encoding genes. Analysis of String interactions and the Log fold change (LogFC) values highlighted cellular interactions. From our String analysis, we learned how genes may connect to biological processes related to symptoms, the lasting effects of MERS strains, and classification into biological and Krypto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathways. We identified several significant genes, including SSX2, which is expressed in cancer cells. The upregulation of SSX2 may be involved in the unregulated inflammatory responses seen in some MERS-CoV-2 patients. Contrastingly, the HLA genes, which are typically expressed in healthy cells, are downregulated in our infected group. A third group of upregulated genes included MAK16 and CDC25A and showed decreased nuclear DNA function and apoptosis, indicating viral control of the cell for use in RNA processing. All these genes may potentially act as markers for infection, and given its expression levels, SSX2 may also be a potential gene target.

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