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By: Dr. Sukhwinder Lakhman
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy

Immune responses demonstrate a high level of intra-species variation, compensating for the specialization capacity of pathogens. The recent advent of in-depth immune phenotyping projects in large-scale cohorts has allowed the first look into the factors that shape the inter-individual diversity of the human immune system. Genetic approaches have identified genetic diversity as drivers of 20-40% of the variation between the immune systems of individuals. The remaining 60-80% is shaped by intrinsic factors, with age being the predominant factor, as well as by environmental influences, where cohabitation and chronic viral infections were identified as key mediators. We can review and integrate the recent in-depth large-scale studies on human immune diversity and its potential impact on health.

Genetic variability 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 coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The research is published in the Journal of Virology in 2020, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. Genetic variation explains some of the differences in the strength of immune responses. Certain immune system genes code for proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which vary tremendously. These variations influence how well the immune system recognizes a given pathogen or other foreign entity. An HLA type that leads to poor recognition of SARS-CoV-2 could cause a person to be more vulnerable to the virus.

“Understanding how variation in HLA  may affect the course of COVID-19 could help identify individuals at higher risk from the disease,” according to the authors of the new study by Nguyen et al., (2020).

The authors show that individual HLA type likely influences the capacity to respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection and note 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… with potential epidemiological ramifications in the setting of the current pandemic,” write the authors, from Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, and the Portland VA Research.

Another aspect of this is that there may be other genes and the mutations in humans that make some people more resistant to this disease. Uncovering the genetic biomarkers in the human immune response that makes some people resistant to the COVID-19 will be of great interest and will help us understand the underline mechanisms that may help us design a potent drug to control this disease.

About American University of Health Sciences

AUHS is a Christian based, minority-serving university, which educates students for careers in the healthcare professions. AUHS emphasizes the values of faith in God, love of humankind, and belief that all people have a right to healthcare and deserve a good quality of life based on the wellness of body, mind, and spirit. The university celebrates diversity and reaches out to groups currently underrepresented in healthcare and research. AUHS provides the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, hands-on practical training and supportive environment required to create competent and compassionate healthcare professionals.

American University of Health Sciences is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501, 510.748.9001.

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