APOL1 risk variants in individuals of African genetic ancestry drive endothelial cell defects that exacerbate sepsis and COVID-19 severity
The incidence and severity of sepsis is higher amongst individuals of African compared those of European ancestry. We found that genetic risk variants (RV) in the trypanolytic factor Apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1) present only in individuals of African ancestry were associated with increased sepsis incidence and severity. Serum APOL1 level correlated with sepsis and COVID-19 severity. Single-cell sequencing in human kidneys revealed high expression of APOL1 in endothelial cells. Analysis of mice with endothelial-specific expression of RV APOL1 and in vitro studies demonstrated that RV APOL1 interfered with mitophagy, leading to cytosolic release of mitochondrial DNA and activation of the inflammasome (NLRP3) and the cytosolic nucleotide sensing pathways (STING). Genetic deletion or pharmacological inhibition of NLRP3 and STING protected mice from RV APOL1-induced permeability defects and proinflammatory endothelial changes in sepsis. Our studies identify the inflammasome and STING pathways as potential targets to reduce APOL1-associated health disparities in sepsis and COVID-19.