Scientists identify gene that could protect against severe COVID

© Irenesedano1988

A team at Newcastle University have identified a gene, HLA-DRB1*04:01, which could be responsible for individuals who are asymptomatic – suggesting that the gene offers some protection against severe COVID

The human leukocyte antigen gene identified, HLA-DRB1*04:01, is directly correlated to latitude and longitude. This means that more people in the North and West of Europe are likely to have this gene – making them more likely to be potentially asymptomatic or protected against a severe form of COVID.

However, this protection from severe COVID doesn’t mean that the individual will be unable to transmit the virus. They will still be able to infect other people, according to the way the virus works.

‘It may explain why some people don’t get sick’, says researcher

Dr Carlos Echevarria from the Translational and Clinical Research Institute, Newcastle University who also works as a Respiratory Consultant in the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is a co-author of the paper says: “This is an important finding as it may explain why some people catch Covid but don’t get sick. It could lead us to a genetic test which may indicate who we need to prioritise for future vaccinations.”

“At a population level, this is important for us to know because when we have lots of people who are resistant, so they catch Covid but don’t show symptoms, then they risk spreading the virus while asymptomatic.”

‘Complex interaction between environment, genetics and disease’

Study author, David Langton, whose company ExplantLab helped fund the study through an Innovate UK research award, added: “Some of the most interesting findings were the relationships between longitude and latitude and HLA gene frequency. It has long been known that the incidence of multiple sclerosis increases with increasing latitude. This has been put down in part to reduced UV exposure and therefore lower vitamin D levels. We weren’t aware, however, that one of the main risk genes for MS, that is DRB1*15:01, directly correlates to latitude.

“This highlights the complex interaction between environment, genetics and disease. We know some HLA genes are vitamin D responsive, and that low vitamin D levels are a risk factor for severe COVID and we are doing further work in this area.”

Read the full study here. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here