The landscape of human genes involved in the immune response to parasitic worms

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Background. More than 2 billion individuals worldwide suffer from helminth infections. The highest parasite burdens occur in children and helminth infection during pregnancy is a risk factor for preterm delivery and reduced birth weight. Therefore, helminth infections can be regarded as a strong selective pressure. Results. Here we propose that candidate susceptibility genes for parasitic worm infections can be identified by searching for SNPs that display a strong correlation with the diversity of helminth species/genera transmitted in different geographic areas. By a genome-wide search we identified 3478 variants that correlate with helminth diversity. These SNPs map to 810 distinct human genes including loci involved in regulatory T cell function and in macrophage activation, as well as leukocyte integrins and co-inhibitory molecules. Analysis of functional relationships among these genes identified complex interaction networks centred around Th2 cytokines. Finally, several genes carrying candidate targets for helminth-driven selective pressure also harbour susceptibility alleles for asthma/allergy or are involved in airway hyper-responsiveness, therefore expanding the known parallelism between these conditions and parasitic infections. Conclusions. Our data provide a landscape of human genes that modulate susceptibility to helminths and indicate parasitic worms as one of the major selective forces in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number264
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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