Genes Inherited from Neanderthals Increase Risk of Severe Covid-19, Study Finds

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Italy has found a link 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 the severity of the disease in the province of Bergamo, which was 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 disease. CCR9 and CXCR6 genes play a role in the immune response and inflammation during infection, while LZTFL1 gene regulates the development and function of cells in the respiratory tract.

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

In addition to these findings, the study also identified 17 other genetic regions potentially associated with severe disease and the risk of infection. 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 Institutet in Sweden and Max Planck Institute in Germany had already shown 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 contracting HIV by 27 percent.

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

– Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research
– iScience journal