Polygenic Risk Scores and COPD History Predict COVID-19 Disease Severity

In this study, the researchers explored the potential interaction between genetic risk and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in relation to severe COVID-19.

Patients with a higher polygenic risk score (PRS) or history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were more likely to have severe COVID-19 disease, according to the results of a recent study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

A polygenic risk score was calculated for study participants by using 112 single nucleotide polymorphisms thought to be related to COVID-19 disease severity. Any history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was also factored into overall risk. Logistic regression models were then used to examine associations of genetic risk and/or COPD and COVID-19 disease severity.

Among the 430,582 participants from the UK Biobank study, 712 developed severe COVID-19 during the study. Of these 712, 19.8% had pre-existing COPD. When comparing polygenic risk scores, those with low risk scores had a lower chance of developing severe COVID-19 when compared with either the intermediate or high polygenic risk scores groups.

The study authors wrote, “The PRS which combines multiple risk alleles can be effectively used in screening for high-risk populations of severe COVID-19.” They added, “High genetic risk correlates with a higher risk of severe COVID-19, regardless of pre-existing COPD.”


Huang QM, Zhang PD, Li ZH, et al. Genetic risk and COPD independently predict the risk of incident severe COVID-19. Ann Am Thorac Soc. Published online July 9, 2021. doi:10.1513/AnnalsATS.202102-171OC