Magazine article Science News

Gene Activity May Predict TB Fate: Information Could Reveal Who Will Go from Infection to Disease

Magazine article Science News

Gene Activity May Predict TB Fate: Information Could Reveal Who Will Go from Infection to Disease

Article excerpt

Thanks to molecular profiling, scientists now have a better idea about how a mass killer selects its victims.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis infects one-third of people worldwide. But only about 10 percent of people infected will actually get sick with the debilitating lung disease tuberculosis. Scientists currently have no way to predict who those people are.

Now, a consortium of researchers has compiled profiles of gene activity in the blood of people with dormant TB infections, people with active infections and healthy people. Such profiles may help predict who will succumb to TB, the researchers report in the Aug. 19 Nature.

"This is literally the way to tell who is going to get sick," says Clifton Barry, chief of the tuberculosis research section at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md.

In the new study, researchers drew blood from TB patients and from healthy people in London and analyzed gene activity in the blood cells. People with active TB infections had 393 genes with activity different from that seen in others. The team could classify people into groups--no infection, latent infection or active illness--just by looking at the gene activity profiles in the blood. The findings were replicated in a separate group of patients from Cape Town, South Africa. The TB signature disappeared as people were treated with antibiotics.

About 10 to 25 percent of people with latent infections had signatures similar to those of people with active infections, indicating that people with the active-type profile may go on to develop the disease even if their infection is currently dormant, says study coauthor Matthew Berry of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London. …

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