July 05, 2011
Genetic Variants For White Blood Cell Function Found

If your immune system is too weak or excessively active your genes probably play a role in making them that way.

WHAT: A trio of large-scale genome-wide association studies, or GWAS, have identified more than 15 gene variants responsible for the diversity of white blood cell counts among whites, African-Americans, and Japanese. Supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, each study examined the genomes of tens of thousands of people. Combined, the studies offer the first comprehensive analysis into why some people, and some populations, have more or fewer white blood cells than others.

All three articles will be published online June 30 in PLoS Genetics.

White blood cells are part of the immune system, which fights infections and diseases. Measuring white blood cell levels is a common diagnostic test that can reveal underlying infections, cancers, or immune system disorders. Some scientific studies have also linked higher levels of white blood cells to increased risk of disease, including heart disease.

Different genetic variants influence immune function in different ways. One of the benefits of studying genetic variants is that it leads to the identification of which genes play a role in which metabolic subsystems and organs.

Some of the identified gene variants were responsible for altering total numbers of white blood cells, while other variants affected only one specific cell subtype, such as neutrophils, basophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes.

The findings could lead to important clinical advances. For example, these gene variants could be tested to pinpoint disease risks earlier in life. In addition, understanding the genetic basis behind altered white blood cell counts might also lead to gene therapies, such as boosting white blood cells in immune compromised people or reducing them in leukemia patients.

What is so important about genetic variants that influence immune function? Researchers at Wake Forest U found that mice differ greatly in how well their immune systems attack cancer cells and so do humans. So one reason to care about immune system genetic variants is that some variants could probably substantially reduce our risk of cancer if we could get our immune systems upgraded with some gene therapy.We need immune system upgrades anyway just to reverse the effects of immune system aging. That immune system aging doesn't just put us at greater risk of death from infection. As the immune system ages it becomes less able to kill cancer cells. It probably also becomes less able to remove intercellular debris. So immune system rejuvenation would cut our death risk from multiple causes.

You can read the 3 papers on genetic variants in immune systems: Multiple Loci Are Associated with White Blood Cell Phenotypes, Genome-Wide Association Study of White Blood Cell Count in 16,388 African Americans: the Continental Origins and Genetic Epidemiology Network (COGENT), and Identification of Nine Novel Loci Associated with White Blood Cell Subtypes in a Japanese Population.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 July 05 11:40 PM  Biotech Immunology


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