Variation of certain genes in the human immune system may affect susceptibility to, and severity of infection by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for the COVID-19 infection.
According to a study published in the Journal of Virology, individual genetic variation may explain differences in the strength of immune responses among coronavirus patients.
Certain immune system genes, called human leukocyte antigen genes that are involved in recognizing pathogens, vary from person to person, according to the researchers from Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, and the Portland VA Research Foundation.
These variations can influence how well the immune system recognizes a given pathogen, they added.
Poor recognition of SARS-CoV-2 could cause a person to be more vulnerable to the virus, said the study.
“In particular, understanding how variation in HLA (a component of the immune system containing multiple genes) may affect the course of COVID-19 could help identify individuals at higher risk from the disease,” said the authors of the new study.
According to the researchers, individual HLA, haplotype, and full genotype variability likely influence the capacity to respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
They also noted that certain alleles, in particular, could be associated with more severe infection, as has previously been shown with SARS-CoV.
“This is the first study to report global distributions of HLA types and haplotypes with potential epidemiological ramifications in the setting of the current pandemic,” the researchers wrote in the study.
“Pairing HLA typing with COVID-19 testing where feasible could improve assessment of viral severity in the population,” they said.
Following the development of a vaccine against COVID-19, the researchers believe that individuals with high-risk HLA types could be prioritized for vaccination.