Gene protects some from flu

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 10th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Now that flu season is over, we can all relax at parties, at work and in those other social situations where nasty germs arespread through handshakes and incidental exposure to coughs and sneezes.

Yet some people seemingly never fall victim to the flu, even if they don’t bother with vaccination. These are most likely the same people who navigated twelve years of school with perfect attendance, never experiencing the misery of a sick day.

It turns out these lucky individuals may owe their resiliency less to their efforts to steer clear of a virus and more to their genetic makeup. Scientists at Washington University have evidence that a specific gene called C-C-L-5 boosts immune system cells responsible for locking up viruses and preventing them from spreading. The more of this gene you have, they speculate, the better able you are to fend off bugs and the unpleasant symptoms they produce.

When flu virus infects cells, the immune system springs into action. The infected cells either commit programmed suicide or are killed by the body’s T-cells. Into this scene of carnage come the macrophages [MAK-ro-faj-ez], scavenger cells responsible for cleaning up other dead and dying cells. The scientists who studied the expression of the C-C-L-5 gene believe it enhances the effectiveness of macrophages, enabling them to stop the infection in its tracks.

These insights may one day be used to make better vaccines for people who aren’t well-endowed with C-C-L-5. Until then, you’ll just have to keep your guard up.