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Gene clues to immune strength

Friday September 27th, 2013

Immune system strength may be determined by genes, according to a major European study published yesterday.

Researchers identified some 89 variations in genes linked to the immune system in a study of residents of the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean.

The findings help explain why some families are more resistant to infection than others.

But they also help explain diseases causes by overactive immune systems - known as autoimmune diseases. These include multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis.

Five of the genes were already known to be linked to these diseases.

Researcher Dr Francesco Cucca, of the Institute of Genetic and Biomedical Research, Italy, studied some 8.2 million genetic variants in 1,629 Sardinians for the study, reported in Cell.

Dr Cucca said: "The lineage of most Sardinians goes back approximately 20,000 years, to the Mediterranean island's original settler population - and an ideal group for this type of research.

"We have learned that in case after case, findings in Sardinia have been applicable world-wide."

Dr David Schlessinger, of the US National Institute on Aging, said: "From this study, we wanted to know the extent to which relative immune resistance or susceptibility to disease is inherited in families.

"If your mother is rarely sick, for example, does that mean you don't have to worry about the bug that's going around? Is immunity in the genes? According to our findings, the answer is yes, at least in part."

Cell 26 September 2013

Tags: Europe | Genetics | North America

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