January 22, 2016
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Individual’s genes provide innate resilience to infection

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Recent research suggests that the genes that influence resistance to infections such as Escherichia coli may vary from person to, leading some people who are exposed to become symptomatic while others do not.

“We found there were differences with the subjects that seemed to predict who would become sick,” Ephraim L. Tsalik, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, said in a press release. “We interpreted those as signals that show an innate resistance to infection. There may be certain genetic traits that can increase or decrease your chances of being infected after exposure to a pathogen.”

Chris Woods

Christopher W. Woods

Tsalik, Christopher W. Woods, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and global health at Duke Global Health Institute and an Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member, and colleagues recruited and challenged a cohort of 30 healthy adults with an unattenuated strain of enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC). Participants were aged 23 to 45 years, and were unlikely to be exposed to ETEC or cholera within the previous 2 years. A baseline blood sample was collected 8 hours after oral administration of ETEC, and later was collected during daily monitoring for 8 days. Gene expression analysis from whole peripheral blood RNA samples was conducted among participants who became symptomatic, and was compared with results from an equal number of participants who remained asymptomatic.

Six participants demonstrated severe symptoms after ETEC exposure and were matched with six asymptomatic participants. Among symptomatic patients, the researchers identified differences in the expression of 406 genes when comparing data from baseline with those at time of peak symptoms. While symptomatic participants at peak illness expressed 254 immune response genes differently than patients who were asymptomatic, comparison of baseline expressions also found 29 differentially expressed genes. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that some individuals may possess an innate resilience to infection not shared by others.

Ephraim L. Tsalik, MD, PhD

Ephraim Tsalik

“We have found a set of immune-related genes to focus on,” Tsalik said. “Now if we can understand how the expression of these genes imparts this resistance and susceptibility, we might be able to offer new ways to boost your immune system to protect against prevalent infections such as E. coli or better predict who is at greatest risk of getting an infection.” – by Dave Muoio

Disclosures: Tsalik reports a relationship with Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Woods reports relationships with Becton Dickinson, bioMerieux, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Qiagen, Roche Molecular, and Verigene. Both researchers report related patents. Please see the full study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.