Gene discovery helps explain how flu can cause severe infections

June 28, 2012

Scientists have discovered a new gene in the influenza virus that helps the virus control the body's response to infection.

Although this control is exerted by the , surprisingly it reduces the impact of the infection.

The findings will help researchers better understand how flu can cause severe infections, as well as inform research into new treatments.

Researchers found when the virus gene – called PA-X – was active, mice infected with flu subsequently recovered.

When the PA-X gene did not work properly, the immune system was found to overreact. This made the infection worse, and did not help destroy the virus any quicker.

The study looked at how the gene affected the behaviour of "Spanish flu", a virulent strain of that caused a pandemic in 1918.

It was carried out by the Universities of Cambridge, Cork, Edinburgh and Utah, the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle and the United States National Institutes of Health.

Scientists discovered the PA-X gene some 30 years after flu genome was first decoded.

Professor Paul Digard, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Just finding this gene in the first place is important, but the find is even more significant because of the role it seems to play in the body's response to flu."

The researchers, whose study is published online in the journal Science, found the hidden gene by analysing patterns of changes in the genetic information of thousands of different flu strains.

Dr Andrew Firth, of the University of Cambridge, said: "The virus has a very, very small genome - just 12 . Finding a new gene makes a pretty significant change to our understanding of this virus."

Explore further: Genetics of flu susceptibility: Researchers find gene that can transform mild influenza to a life-threatening disease

More information: "In Influenza A Virus Segment 3 Modulates the Host Response," by B.W. Jagger et al., Science, 2012.

Related Stories

Genetics of flu susceptibility: Researchers find gene that can transform mild influenza to a life-threatening disease

March 25, 2012
A genetic finding could help explain why influenza becomes a life-threating disease to some people while it has only mild effects in others. New research led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has identified for the first ...

Recommended for you

H7N9 influenza is both lethal and transmissible in animal model for flu

October 19, 2017
In 2013, an influenza virus that had never before been detected began circulating among poultry in China. It caused several waves of human infection and in late 2016, the number of people to become sick from the H7N9 virus ...

Migraines may be the brain's way of dealing with oxidative stress

October 19, 2017
A new perspective article highlights a compelling theory about migraine attacks: that they are an integrated mechanism by which the brain protects and repairs itself. Recent insightful findings and potential ways to use them ...

New insights into herpes virus could inform vaccine development

October 18, 2017
A team of scientists has discovered new insights into the mechanisms of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, as well as two antibodies that block the virus' entry into cells. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National ...

Pair of discoveries illuminate new paths to flu and anthrax treatments

October 17, 2017
Two recent studies led by biologists at the University of California San Diego have set the research groundwork for new avenues to treat influenza and anthrax poisoning.

Portable 3-D scanner assesses patients with elephantiasis

October 17, 2017
An estimated 120 million people worldwide are infected with lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic, mosquito-borne disease that can cause major swelling and deformity of the legs, a condition known as elephantiasis. Health-care ...

New tools to combat kidney fibrosis

October 16, 2017
Interstitial fibrosis – excessive tissue scarring – contributes to chronic kidney disease, which is increasing in prevalence in the United States.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.