New Genetics

The National Aspergillosis Centre and the Manchester Fungal Infection Group (MFIG) are at the forefront of the investigation of why some people get chronic aspergillosis when most of use do not. We are all breathing the same air and the source of the infection can only be the fungal spores in the air as most infection affect the lungs and sinuses!

Genetic studies looking at the entire genome of groups of patients who have chronic aspergillosis have started to reveal a small group of genes that seem to be consistently associated with aspergillosis. Perhaps unsurprisingly many of these appear to play a part in different parts of our defence mechanisms to resist infection. Fungi offer particular challenges for our bodies to solve – they are made up of strong threads that can force their way through membranes that would stop a bacterium for example, and fungal threads (hyphae) are far to large for a single neutrophil to engulf.

A recent study released by MFIG & NAC characterised a single gene named ZNF77 which, when carrying a particular mutation, causes Aspergillus fumigatus spores to stick more easily and strongly to the walls of an airway, and to germinate and grow faster! It isn’t difficult to realise that people carrying such a mutation will be more vulnerable to infection by Aspergillus, however even that change on its own is not thought to be enough to cause CPA or ABPA. There is much more to learn but it could certainly be useful to screen people thought to be at risk of chronic aspergillosis for this mutation. If someone has the mutation doctors could provide increased protection e.g. by giving antifungal drugs prior to and during a planned medical procedure such as a transplant.

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