“We wanted to understand how genetic differences between individuals affect this cellular response to infection,” said one senior author, Dr. Johannes Schumacher of the University of Bonn.
Small differences in genes the investigators identified were affecting the immune system and its response to infection.
“These genes include many of the well-known genes of the human immune system, demonstrating that genetic variation has an important role in how the human immune system works,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Kim-Hellmuth of the New York Genome Center, Columbia University.
Some of the genetic variants identified in the study had links to celiac disease, others were associated with cholesterol level. The study suggested that genetics underpins the many differences in immune response among the members of a population. The work provides some insight into how genetic elements impact the response to environmental stimuli, as well as the dynamics of immune response.
“It’s been known for a long time that most diseases have both genetic and environmental risk factors. But it’s actually more complicated than that because genes and environment interact. As demonstrated in our study, a genetic risk factor may manifest only in certain environments,” explained Dr. Lappalainen.