Coronavirus, Southern Italy protected by a “genetic shield”. The new thesis of immunologists

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Coronavirus, among the key factors that have contributed to drawing the map of the epidemic in Italy so clearly, there could also be “an interaction between DNA and the environment”. This is the thesis of Antonio Giordano, an Italian scientist transplanted to the USA, among the authors of an article published in “Frontiers Immunology”. One genetic shield in essence it could have protected southern Italy from the Sars-CoV-2 tsunami that swept the northern regions. “The hypothesis is to be validated before drawing certain conclusions, but it is already founded on solid scientific bases”, explains Antonio Giordano to Adnkronos Salute.

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A defense in the code of life. “The hypothesis is that there is a form of defense” printed in code of life, “A protective genetic structure” against the more serious effects of the pandemic pathogen, “which by numbers seems more widespread in the South than in the North”, observes Giordano. Founder and director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine of Philadelphia, professor of Pathological Anatomy at the University of Siena, the expert also boasts a position in the scientific board of the Higher Institute of Health, as delegate of the ministry of the Environment on the links between diseases and environmental injuries. During the lockdown Giordano tried to analyze “the possible causes of the high rate of infection and mortality in Italy”, collaborating with researchers from different sectors and signing this first article together with colleagues including Pierpaolo Correale and Rita Emilena Saladino of the Grand Metropolitan Hospital of Reggio Calabria, Giovanni Baglio of the Ministry of Health and Francesca Pentimalli of the Cancer Institute of Naples.


Conte at the UN: «Turning this crisis into an opportunity»The authors describe the main features of the Covid-19 clinical course, possible molecular mechanisms responsible for a worse outcome of the patients, and the various therapeutic strategies that can be adopted to contrast the pathology and its complications. And they point the finger particularly “at the Hla system (human leukocyte antigen), which has a key role in shaping the antiviral immune response, both innate and acquired”. The theory is therefore that “a specific genetic structure, made up of particular variants of the Hla genes, could underlie the susceptibility to Sars-CoV-2 disease and its severity”. For Luciano Mutti, an oncologist and professor at the Temple University of Philadelphia, “the identification of these genetic determinants would be crucial to assess the levels of priority in future vaccination campaigns, for the clinical management of patients and to isolate individuals at risk, including health workers ».

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The study raises «another interesting possibility as regards the spread of the infection in Italy where the north of the country, where the disease was initially detected, was hit more severely. Although a massive migration from the »epicenter« regions to the South was registered before the national blockade, the southern regions recorded much lower infection rates ». Among other things, “it was speculated that the virus was circulating long before the national lockdown”, so the idea is that something ‘helped the inhabitants of half of the boot. “While some have proposed that milder climatic conditions could help prevent viral spread,” the authors wonder whether “a specific genetic makeup could help protect Southern citizens. Further large-scale case-control studies could shed light on this possible aspect », but« the solid foundations for thinking about it already exist », Giordano assures. “We are increasing the number of cases to arrive at the final figure”, he explains. And to those who object that many citizens of southern Italy have actually lived in the North for generations, the scientist replies by recalling the existence of “complex interactions between genetics and the environment. We must also consider a number of important factors that we are examining, not least the possible role of fine dust pollution ».

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