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A large-scale investigation into the role of classical HLA loci in multiple types of severe infections, with a focus on overlaps with autoimmune and mental disorders



Infections are a major disease burden worldwide. While they are caused by external pathogens, host genetics also plays a part in susceptibility to infections. Past studies have reported diverse associations between human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles and infections, but many were limited by small sample sizes and/or focused on only one infection.


We performed an immunogenetic association study examining 13 categories of severe infection (bacterial, viral, central nervous system, gastrointestinal, genital, hepatitis, otitis, pregnancy-related, respiratory, sepsis, skin infection, urological and other infections), as well as a phenotype for having any infection, and seven classical HLA loci (HLA-A, B, C, DPB1, DQA1, DQB1 and DRB1). Additionally, we examined associations between infections and specific alleles highlighted in our previous studies of psychiatric disorders and autoimmune disease, as these conditions are known to be linked to infections.


Associations between HLA loci and infections were generally not strong. Highlighted associations included associations between DQB1*0302 and DQB1*0604 and viral infections (P = 0.002835 and P = 0.014332, respectively), DQB1*0503 and sepsis (P = 0.006053), and DQA1*0301 with "other" infections (a category which includes infections not included in our main categories e.g. protozoan infections) (P = 0.000369). Some HLA alleles implicated in autoimmune diseases showed association with susceptibility to infections, but the latter associations were generally weaker, or with opposite trends (in the case of HLA-C alleles, but not with alleles of HLA class II genes). HLA alleles associated with psychiatric disorders did not show association with susceptibility to infections.


Our results suggest that classical HLA alleles do not play a large role in the etiology of severe infections. The discordant association trends with autoimmune disease for some alleles could contribute to mechanistic theories of disease etiology.

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