Gene can turn flu into a killer
4 May 2012
A genetic finding could help explain why influenza becomes a life-threatening disease in some people while it has only mild effects in others. New research, which involved Imperial scientists and was published in the journal Nature on 26 April, has identified for the first time a human gene that influences how we respond to influenza infection.
The researchers found that people who carry a particular variant of a gene called IFITM3, which encodes a protein of the same name, are significantly more likely to be hospitalised when they fall ill with influenza than those who carry other variants. This gene plays a critical role in protecting the body against infection with influenza and a rare version of it appears to make people more susceptible to severe forms of the disease.
IFITM3 is an important protein that protects cells against virus infection and is thought to play a critical role in the immune system’s response against such viruses as H1N1 pandemic influenza, commonly known as swine flu. When the protein is present in large quantities, the spread of the virus in lungs is hindered, but if the protein is defective or absent, the virus can spread more easily, causing severe disease.
“This new discovery is the first clue from our detailed study of the devastating effects of flu in hospitalised patients”, said the study’s co-author, Professor Peter Openshaw (NHLI), pictured. “It vindicates our conviction that there is something unusual about these patients.”
— Adapted from a news release issued by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute