Understanding a Global Epidemic: Why Africans with HIV Are More Susceptible to TB

Helen Dodson, Medical Xpress, July 23, 2013

Yale researchers have identified a common genetic variant that makes people infected with HIV much more susceptible to tuberculosis (TB). The study is published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death by infectious disease, causing 1.5 million deaths around the world each year. Its prevalence is rising because of drug resistance and an increasing number of patients who are co-infected with HIV. They represent nearly 30 percent of all TB-related deaths. The convergence of these epidemics is particularly prominent on the African continent, which has the highest rates of TB cases and deaths—80 percent of which occur in people living with HIV. Globally, a higher incidence of tuberculosis is known to occur in Africans and African-Americans than in American or European Caucasians, and  has long been suspected.

The Yale-led team found that a low-expressing version of the immune response gene known as macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF)—a cell-signaling molecule secreted by the body’s —conferred a two-and-a-half fold increased risk for severe tuberculosis in a group of patients from Uganda. Low-expressers of MIF are almost twice as common among people of African ancestry as Caucasians.

“This helps to explain the increased incidence of TB in Africa,” said senior author Richard Bucala, M.D., professor of rheumatology, pathology, and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health.

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