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Role Of Immune Genes In COVID-19
23.May.2022

Role Of Immune Genes In COVID-19

Your genetics play a huge role in your overall health and predisposition to certain ailments. The genes you are born with have all the information that your cells need to make proteins. They act as an instructional handbook, so to speak, when it comes to forming proteins that perform all the life-sustaining functions within your body. While researchers aren’t sure exactly how many genes each person has, the estimate sits at roughly 20,000 to 25,000 genes.

This has led many researchers to examine bodily processes in light of genetics, and the studies have found that when it comes to immunity in particular, the way your body fights off infection has a lot to do with the genes passed on to you. So what is the role of immune genes in COVID-19?

Does immunity come from genes?

Some of the latest research on immunity and genes has been done in the SardiNIA Study of Aging. This particular study looked at 1,629 people to examine gene variants and the role they play in immunity. The conclusion drawn was that immunity does in fact correlate with genetics because of how genes can regulate the response of both the innate and adaptive immune systems (i.e. the non-specific immune response and the pathogen-specific immune response respectively).

In particular, the adaptive immune system is highly regulated by genetics because of the way a person’s genes control the number of immune system cells available to fight off infection (or even other healthy cells in the case of an autoimmune disease). Researchers came to this conclusion by examining gene variations in each of their participants. The study found that there are 89 gene variants in the human body that can be associated with immune cell production.

The gene variants found to play a role in how many adaptative immune cells a person has were also correlated with increased or decreased risk of developing an autoimmune disease. Since some diseases run in families, this research solidifies genetic aspects of immunity and its ability to be heavily influenced by our family lines.

 

Image by Sangharsh Lohakare on Unsplash: Can you have genetic immunity to COVID-19?

 

Why are genetics a point of research when it comes to COVID-19?

When looking at the role of immunity in fighting disease, the main focus for the last two years has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Viruses are mainly fought off by a person’s own immune system when there is a lack of viable treatment options, so before the development of COVID vaccines, people across the globe were forced to reevaluate their immune health and their body’s ability to fight off the infection.

The COVID-19 situation became more confusing over time because while some people got deathly ill, others experienced no symptoms at all. Even those who were at the same level of health when they caught the virus could experience two very different outcomes. This had medical researchers rushing to find an explanation and research what factors may go into predicting whether or not a person would have severe or mild infection.

While some came to the conclusion that conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, or poor overall health may play a role in the severity of COVID infection, researchers soon learned that genetics may play a larger role then they had previously thought.

Genetics and COVID-19

New research is bringing to light the genetic component of severe and terminal COVID-19 cases, finding that there are several genes at play when it comes to how mild or severe the viral infection will be in certain people. One particular study looked at over 2200 COVID-19 cases and found that there are several gene variants that could be a large factor in severe disease.

Another study looked at genome association in COVID-19 and found several genetic markers in people who experienced respiratory failure due to the viral infection. The genes in question included the ABO gene, which determines a person’s blood type, as well as chromosome 3, which houses six other genes.

 

Image by Sangharsh Lohakare on Unsplash: Does genetics affect COVID-19?

 

One of the genes found in chromosome 3 is known as IFNAR2. This particular gene plays a role in immunity because it acts as the code for a specific cell receptor that influences the way a molecular messenger known as interferon reacts in the body. Variants in that particular gene were found to be closely correlated to an increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection.

There is also the aspect of the virus’s RNA – a single-stranded molecule that is similar to DNA. Certain genes known as OAS genes provide instructions to produce proteins that in turn encourage the production of specific enzymes. The enzymes in question are tasked with breaking down the RNA within the virus, thus assisting with its destruction. When a person has a variation in one of their OAS genes, their body’s ability to produce the much-needed enzymes is hindered, and thus, the virus can thrive.  

Because of these findings, it has been confirmed that while other health factors play a role in severe disease, genetics and gene variations are something to be considered when determining whether a person will develop a severe or mild COVID-19 infection, or no infection at all.

 

Featured image by Mustafa Omar on Unsplash

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