Researchers announced on Thursday the discovery of a gene whose mutations can turn a common flu into a potentially lethal encephalitis.
The gene, named DBR1, takes away our resistance to common viruses in our environment, such as the flu virus, the norovirus (which causes gastro-enteritis) and Herpes 1 (HSV1).
“What’s been identified is therefore a new genetic disorder that affects immunity,” the Parisian Institute of Genetic Research, Imagine, explained in a press release. Symptoms include extreme vulnerability to viral infections that are usually light, affecting mainly the brain stem.
Researchers at the Imagine Institute and New York’s Rockefeller Institute found that in a few children, a series of mutations of this gene would disrupt their defence against the virus.
In the vast majority of children, the immune defence system renders these ailments benign. For others, however, the virus can lead to very severe complications: a severe viral encephalitis, an infection of the brain stem, which is “the seat of many vital functions.”
Modern medicine stands to gain from the discovery, which will “enable us to improve diagnostics, general family counselling and care for patients showing the signs” of such an infection, the Imagine Institute stressed.
For the main author of the article that describes the discovery in the Cell magazine, Shen-Ying Zhang, the next step is to create and study models that simulate the illness in order to better prevent and cure it.
The Brussels Times