Flu, gastroenteritis… In the vast majority of children, immune defenses make these diseases benign, but in rare cases, these viruses will cause severe viral encephalitis.
On Thursday, March 22, researchers announced they have discovered a gene whose mutations can degenerate a simple flu into a potentially fatal infection. “So it’s a new genetic disease of immunity that has been identified,” said the Paris genetic research institute Imagine in a statement. “This results in extreme vulnerability to viral infections that are usually not serious, with a precisely localized involvement in the brainstem,” they added.
The gene in question, called DBR1, makes us unequal in the face of common viruses in our environment: the flu, norovirus (causing gastroenteritis) and HSV1 (herpes type 1). Researchers at the Imagine Institute and the Rockefeller Institute in New York have demonstrated that in rare children, a series of mutations of this gene disrupted defense against these viruses. At home, these viruses will cause a very serious complication, a severe viral encephalitis, brainstem infection which is the “seat of several vital functions”.
The researchers hope that this discovery will help to find practical applications for medicine. “This breakthrough will improve diagnosis, genetic counseling for families and the management of patients with signs of such an infection,” said the Imagine Institute. The lead author of the article that describes this discovery in Cell magazine, Shen-Ying Zhang, now seeks to “create and study models that reproduce the disease to better prevent and treat it,” according to her laboratory.