May 25, 2024

New Discoveries Suggest Genetic Predisposition Plays a Role in Development and Duration of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in Germany, has long puzzled researchers regarding the role genetics and immunological processes play in its development and progression. A recent study led by the Center for Individualized Infection Medicine (CiiM) at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI) and Hannover Medical School (MHH), in collaboration with Radboud University Hospital and Amsterdam UMC in the Netherlands, sheds new light on this issue.

The team’s findings, published in two studies in Nature Communications and BMC Infectious Diseases, reveal a specific gene variant and the immune parameters involved in Lyme disease development. Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. bacteria, transmitted through tick bites, can cause various symptoms affecting the skin, nervous system, and joints. While not all infections lead to disease, some patients develop persistent symptoms despite antibiotic treatment, such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, and pain.

To better understand the genetic and immunological mechanisms behind Lyme disease, the researchers analyzed the gene patterns of over 1,000 patients and compared them to non-infected individuals. Their goal was to identify gene variants directly associated with the disease.

The team discovered a previously unknown gene variant in Lyme Disease patients. They found that this genetic predisposition led to reduced anti-inflammatory processes and fewer antibodies produced against Borrelia. The researchers suspect that the bacteria cannot be attacked efficiently, leading to longer-lasting infections.

Furthermore, they identified 34 different gene loci involved in the regulation of the immune response via messenger substances, or cytokines. These findings could have implications for other immune-mediated diseases like allergies.

Prof. Yang Li, Director of CiiM and Head of the Bioinformatics of Individualized Medicine Department at HZI, emphasized the importance of these discoveries for future Lyme disease research and therapy development. With the large cohort of data used in the study, the results provide an excellent foundation for further investigations into the effect of different gene variants on disease severity.

The incidence of Lyme disease has been increasing in the northern hemisphere, and the team expects this trend to continue due to climate change, which may prolong the tick season and expand their distribution area.

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