Gene linked to life threatening flu

A lack or low content of the protein IFITM3 due to genetic mutation can change a harmless flu into a life-threatening disease. This information was announced in a collaborative study which included contributions from Edinburgh University and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute among others.

While most people recover well from a flu, some have to be hospitalized with life-threatening symptoms.”We had little idea why this small number of people was so severely affected,” says Professor Tim Walsh from the Critical Care Medicine Department at the University of Edinburgh. Previous studies showed that protein IFITM3 plays a crucial role in blocking the growth of influenza viruses. The protein, which sits in the membrane, is suspected to hinder viruses from entering cells and subsequently their replication.

The initial study was done on mice lacking the IFITM3 gene and showed that these mice were more likely to express severe symptoms of flu when exposed to the viruses. A subsequent screening of patients who had been admitted to hospital with severe flu revealed a mutation in the IFITM3 gene in some of the patients.

“Our research is important for people who have this variant as we predict their immune defences could be weakened to some virus infections. Ultimately as we learn more about the genetics of susceptibility to viruses, these people can take informed precautions, such as vaccinations to prevent infection,” says Professor Paul Kellam from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Relating the genetic composition of a person to their susceptibility to viral infections will help scientists find the best cure for patients.

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