Individual Genetic Variation in Immune System May Affect Severity of COVID-19

April 17, 2020

Washington, DC - April 19, 2020 - Genetic variability in the human immune system may affect susceptibility to, and severity of infection by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The research is published, April 17 in Journal of Virology, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.

Genetic variation explains some of the differences in the strength of immune responses. Certain immune system genes code for proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which vary tremendously. These variations influence how well the immune system recognizes a given pathogen, or other foreign entity. An HLA type that leads to poor recognition of SARS-CoV-2 could cause a person to be more vulnerable to the virus.

“In particular, understanding how variation in HLA  may affect the course of COVID-19 could help identify individuals at higher risk from the disease,” according to the authors of the new study.

The authors show that individual HLA type likely influences the capacity to respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and note that certain alleles in particular could be associated with more severe infection, as has previously been shown with SARS-CoV.

“This is the first study to report global distributions of HLA types… with potential epidemiological ramifications in the setting of the current pandemic,” write the authors, from Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, and the Portland VA Research Foundation.

“HLA typing can be fast and inexpensive,” the authors write. “Pairing HLA typing with COVID-19 testing where feasible could improve assessment of viral severity in the population. Following the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, individuals with high-risk HLA types could be prioritized for vaccination.”

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The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.
 
ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
ASM Communications staff.