Rare gene mutation may have link to common cold

Boy covering sneeze with tissue

Colds seem harder to escape as the temperature drops and people spend more time indoors. They are also not well understood by doctors and scientists. Recently though, NIH-supported research found a new piece of information about this common infection.

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) identified a rare genetic mutation earlier this year. It can result in a person being more prone to infection by human rhinoviruses (HRVs), the main cause of the common cold.

The study looked at the case of a young child who had respiratory infections, including colds, influenza, and bacterial pneumonia, within only a few weeks of birth. The genetic analysis of the child found a mutation in the IFIH1 gene. The gene mutation created problems with proteins in her respiratory tract.

“The human immune response to common cold viruses is poorly understood,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “By investigating this unique case, our researchers not only helped this child but also helped answer some important scientific questions about these widespread infections that affect nearly everyone.”

Researchers then analyzed a database of more than 60,000 volunteers’ genomes. While the genetic mutation was rare, they found multiple variations in the IFIH1 gene that could lead to these dysfunctional proteins in the respiratory tract.

Insights from the study may lead to new strategies for treating patients with severe complications from colds.

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