New research in the UK has revealed the first evidence of genetic resistance to coronavirus. This means that if you have a specific gene, HLA-DRB1, and you catch it, you won’t have symptoms. Scientists have also found evidence that this gene is more common in Europe and therefore populations of Europe or of European descent may be more likely to remain asymptomatic.
The HLA-DRB1 gene
The new study, developed by researchers at the University of Newcastle, in the United Kingdom, and recently published in the specialized journal HLA, obtained these results comparing 49 hospitalized patients with severe COVID with 69 samples from an asymptomatic group of hospital workers and with a control group.
Using next-generation sequencing, they studied the HLA genes that are clustered on chromosome 6. The results showed the HLA-DRB1 * 04: 01 gene in the asymptomatic group.
Dr Carlos Echevarría, from the University of Newcastle Clinical and Translational Research Institute, respiratory consultant at the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and a co-author of the research, said this is an important finding, as explains why some people who get coronavirus don’t get sick.
The gene is more common in Europe
The researchers noted that this was a regional study and participants were of European descent, from a relatively small area, where this gene is most prevalent.
The identified gene, HLA-DRB1 * 04: 01, is directly related to latitude and longitude. This means which is more common in people in northern and western Europe and in populations of European descent.
The importance of the findings
This study is not only important in determining the cause of asymptomatic COVID cases, it represents the first clear evidence of genetic resistance to coronavirus.
In addition, Dr. Echevarría indicates that it could be very useful for, in the future, to be able to create a genetic test that can indicate which people to prioritize in vaccination.
At the population level, it is also important to know, because when there are many people who are resistant and do not experience symptoms, the risk that they can spread the virus is greater.
For his part, the study’s lead author, David Langton, said some of the most relevant findings were the relationships between longitude, latitude, and frequency of the HLA gene.
Some HLA genes are known to respond to vitamin D, while reduced vitamin D levels are a risk factor for severe COVID-19, so they are working in that area.
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