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

Recommended for you

Listeria may be serious miscarriage threat early in pregnancy

February 21, 2017

Listeria, a common food-borne bacterium, may pose a greater risk of miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy than appreciated, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine ...

Ebola linked to habitat destruction

February 20, 2017

A Massey University veterinary scientist has co-authored research suggesting that Ebola virus emergence is linked to the clearing of animal habitat through deforestation in West and Central Africa.

Researcher helps stem the spread of superbugs

February 20, 2017

Katherine Baker feels vindicated. She and other microbiologists have been warning for years that anti-bacterial soaps containing triclosan are bad for the environment, harmful for health, and do nothing to prevent disease.

New study determines how long Zika remains in body fluids

February 20, 2017

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine provides evidence that the Zika virus particles remain longer in blood than in urine and some other body fluids. This information suggests that blood serum may be the ...

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.