A new study conducted by researchers from the Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research in Italy revealed that individuals who experienced severe cases of COVID-19 were more likely to possess specific genes inherited from Neanderthals. The study focused on the province of Bergamo, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy.

The study, published in the journal iScience, found that a significant portion of the human genome was associated with the risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms, especially among residents in the hardest-hit areas. The study involved 1,200 participants, and the analysis showed that three out of six genes in a region on chromosome 3 were related to an increased risk of severe COVID-19. These genes include CCR9 and CXCR6, which play a role in white blood cell activity and inflammation during infections, as well as LZTFL1, which regulates the development and function of respiratory tract cells.

The researchers noted that it is still unclear which gene among the three plays the most significant role. Additionally, the study identified 17 new genomic regions that may be associated with severe disease or infection risk.

A particularly interesting finding of the study was that three out of the six genes associated with the severity of COVID-19 have been inherited from Neanderthals, specifically from the Vindija genome discovered in Croatia. While these genes may have once protected Neanderthals, they now cause an excessive immune response in modern humans, leading to a more severe illness.

The study also revealed that individuals with the Neanderthal haplotype had a significantly higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, requiring intensive care, and needing mechanical ventilation compared to those without this genetic inheritance. The presence of the Neanderthal haplotype was also associated with a higher rate of severe cases among first-degree relatives.

This study provides further evidence of the role that genes play in determining the severity of COVID-19. Understanding these genetic factors could help identify individuals who may be more susceptible to severe illness and ensure that appropriate interventions are implemented.

– Study: iScience Journal
– Giuseppe Remuzzi, Director of the Mario Negri Institute
– Marina Noris, Head of the Human Genomics Center at the Mario Negri Institute
– A 2022 study by the Karolinska Institutet and the Max Planck Institute.