Research Explains Why Some Individuals Can Have Life-Threatening Illness from Common, Usually Harmless Bacterium; Defect in Innate Immunity Can Be Serious If Not Compensated for by Adaptive Immune Response

As much as we try to avoid it, ¬we are constantly sharing germs with those around us. But even when two people have the same infection, the resulting illnesses can be dramatically different—mild for one person, severe or even life-threatening for the other. Now, new research from The Rockefeller University offers insights into how these differences can arise. Dr. Jean-Laurent Casanova, head of Rockefeller’s St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, led a team of researchers to uncover how two different conditions—a genetic immunodeficiency and delayed acquired immunity—can combine to support a life-threatening infection. In the research, published online on February 23, 2017 in Cell. The Cell article is titled “Human Adaptive Immunity Rescues an Inborn Error of Innate Immunity.” Dr. Casanova and his team focused on the case of an otherwise healthy young girl who developed a life-threatening infection from a very common strain of bacterium. Most of us carry this microbe, known as Staphylococcus aureus, on our skin and in our nostrils. It can cause minor infections (often referred to as “staph infections”), but in some people, it results in severe disease. The Cell article is titled “Human Adaptive Immunity Rescues an Inborn Error of Innate Immunity.” The young girl’s illness was mysterious: she had no known risk factors that would lead her to develop the acute form of the disease, and none of her family members had contracted it. So, Dr. Casanova and his team set out to define the underlying cause of her disease by searching her DNA for mutations that might make her more susceptible to staph disease.
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