60-Second Science

Mouse Disease Needs Gene plus Viral Infection

Mice with a genetic predisposition to get a Crohn's-like disease were kept healthy until exposed to a virus that apparently triggers the condition. Karen Hopkin reports

Crohn’s disease is a real pain in the gut. This inflammatory disorder can lead to some serious intestinal difficulties. And heredity is partly to blame: some 30 different genes enhance susceptibility. But not everyone who has the genes gets Crohn’s.

Now scientists find that those with one type of risky gene may also need to catch a virus to trigger the disease. The results appear in the journal Cell. [Ken Cadwell et al., citation to come.]

Doctors have long suspected that some sort of virus might precipitate autoimmune disorders, like lupus or multiple sclerosis. But in the case of Crohn’s, researchers stumbled across the connection by accident.

They were studying mice that carry a version of a gene associated with Crohn’s. These animals develop gut problems similar to those seen in humans. Then the researchers started keeping the animals in clean cages. Really clean cages, in which the bedding, food, and water are sterilized. And the squeaky clean mice, even with the risky gene, stayed healthy. But when the scientists exposed the animals to a common virus, they came down with mouse Crohn’s.

The research shows that some illnesses may require a combination of genetic predisposition and infection. Info which could lead to new treatment strategies.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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