A recent study conducted by researchers from the Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research in Italy has discovered a relationship between severe Covid-19 infections and a specific set of genes inherited from Neanderthals. The study, published in the journal iScience, examined the relationship between genetic factors and disease severity in the province of Bergamo, one of the hardest-hit areas in Italy during the early days of the pandemic.

The study analyzed genetic data from 1,200 participants and identified a region on chromosome 3 that was significantly associated with the risk of contracting Covid-19 and developing severe symptoms. Specifically, the presence of three out of six genes in this region, namely CCR9, CXCR6, and LZTFL1, increased susceptibility to severe illness. The CCR9 and CXCR6 genes play a role in immune response and inflammation during infection, while the LZTFL1 gene regulates the development and function of cells in the respiratory tract.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that three out of the six genes associated with higher risk are inherited from Neanderthals. These genes were originally found in the Vindija genome, which dates back 50,000 years and was discovered in Croatia. The researchers suggest that these genes may have protected Neanderthals from infections in the past, but in modern humans, they lead to an excessive immune response that exposes individuals to more severe illness.

In addition to these findings, the study also identified 17 other potentially gene regions associated with severe disease and infection risk. These findings highlight the contribution of genetics to the severity of Covid-19.

It is worth noting that previous research conducted in 2022 by scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute in Germany had already demonstrated that modern humans inherited a genetic risk factor for severe Covid-19 from Neanderthals. The CCR5 gene, located on chromosome 3, was found to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by 27 percent.

Overall, this study adds to the growing evidence linking genetics and susceptibility to severe Covid-19. Understanding the genetic factors involved can inform future research and efforts to develop targeted therapies or preventive measures for those at higher risk.

– Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research
– iScience journal