Inherited genetic factors can influence the severity of COVID-19, but the molecular explanation underpinning a genetic association is often unclear. Intracellular antiviral defenses can inhibit the replication of viruses and reduce disease severity. To better understand the antiviral defenses relevant to COVID-19, we used interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression screening to reveal that OAS1, through RNase L, potently inhibits SARS-CoV-2. We show that a common splice-acceptor SNP (Rs10774671) governs whether people express prenylated OAS1 isoforms that are membrane-associated and sense specific regions of SARS-CoV-2 RNAs, or only express cytosolic, nonprenylated OAS1 that does not efficiently detect SARS-CoV-2. Importantly, in hospitalized patients, expression of prenylated OAS1 was associated with protection from severe COVID-19, suggesting this antiviral defense is a major component of a protective antiviral response.
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