Should you get the flu shot? Your genes may hold the answer.

o-FLU-SEASON-facebookFlu season is underway, so should you get a flu shot?  The CDC encourages every person above six months of age to get an annual flu vaccine, however, how well the flu shot works for you may depend on your genes.

A flu shot contains a weakened or attenuated form of the influenza virus that is expected to circulate during the upcoming winter.  When the vaccine is injected, the virus is too weak to cause symptoms but will still elicit an immune response that produces antibodies that protect the body against future infection.  Following the vaccine, some people may experience mild flu symptoms which typically go away within 48 hours.  Although many people believe that getting the flu shot means that they are safe from the flu, there are several factors that may decrease the effectiveness of a flu shot.  One factor is how closely the strain of flu virus used to produce the vaccine matches with the strain actually in circulation.  Another major factor is the strength of the immune response elicited in each individual.  A team of scientists have concluded that the latter may depend on the genetics of the individual in question.

Recent studies show that different variants of the IL28B gene, a cytokine that plays a role in antiviral responses, affect an individual’s response to the flu vaccine.  Every individual has two copies of the IL28B gene, either a T or G allele, of which the G allele is less common.  The team was able to show that individuals who possess at least one copy of the minor G allele (genotypes TG or GG) have a stronger immune response after receiving the flu vaccine. The G allele is associated with reduced gene expression of IL28B which results in an increase in the production of IL4.  IL4 is an important factor in the activation of B cells and T cells, the immune cells involved in fighting off diseases.  Administering IL28B to individuals with the G allele results in a decreased immune response that mimics that of individuals with the dominant TT genotype.  This shows that IL28B could be an interesting target in the treatment of patients with other viral infections such as Hepatitis C, in addition to influenza.  Immune response in response to the Hepatitis C virus has also been shown to vary by IL28B genotype.  Adrian Egli, head researcher of this study states: “Peptides used to inhibit IL-28B receptor signaling may play a role in augmenting vaccine responses and as such, represents a novel avenue for developing new adjuvants.”

So if you’re one of the unlucky folks who got the flu shot and still got sick, there may be an explanation.  At New Amsterdam Genomics, one of our goals is to help you discover this type of insight about your medical care.  If you know that certain vaccines may not work as well for you, then you can take steps to protect yourself.  In this case, discovering the correlation of immune response to IL28B genotype has allowed scientists to investigate new pathways to increase immune response to viral infections by suppressing IL28B expression.

Do you want to learn more?  Read the full article at:

http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1004556

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