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The landscape of host genetic factors involved in immune response to common viral infections


Introduction:Humans and viruses have co-evolved for millennia resulting in a complex host genetic architecture. Understanding the genetic mechanisms of immune response to viral infection provides insight into disease etiology and informs public health interventions. Methods:We conducted a comprehensive study linking germline genetic variation and gene expression with antibody response to 28 antigens for 16 viruses using serological data from 7924 participants in the UK Biobank cohort. Using test results from 2010 UK Biobank subjects, we also investigated genetic determinants of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. Results:Signals in human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II region dominated the landscape of viral antibody response, with 40 independent loci and 14 independent classical alleles, 7 of which exhibited pleiotropic effects across viral families. Genome-wide association analyses discovered 7 novel genetic loci associated with viral antibody response (P<5.0×10-8), including FUT2 (19q13.33) for human polyomavirus BK (BKV), STING1 (5q31.2) for Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV), as well as CXCR5 (11q23.3) and TBKBP1 (17q21.32) for human herpesvirus 7. Transcriptome-wide association analyses identified 114 genes associated with response to viral infection, 12 outside of the HLA region, including ECSCR: P=5.0×10-15 (MCV), NTN5: P=1.1×10-9 (BKV), and P2RY13: P=1.1×10-8 (Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen). We also demonstrated pleiotropy between viral response genes and complex diseases, such as C4A expression in varicella zoster virus and schizophrenia. Finally, our analyses of SARS-CoV-2 revealed the first genome-wide significant infection susceptibility signal in EHF, an epithelial-specific transcriptional repressor implicated in airway disease. Targeted analyses of expression quantitative trait loci suggest a possible role for tissue-specific ACE2 expression in modifying SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility. Conclusions:Our study confirms the importance of the HLA region in host response to viral infection and elucidates novel genetic determinants of host-virus interaction. Our results may have implications for complex disease etiology and COVID-19.

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