Environmental and Genetic Susceptibility in Immune Cells

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

By Loret Haas-Hanser


Humankind has a tendency to seek out answers hidden within the infinite bounds of science. Always evolving and maturing, the scientific field raises new questions and research opportunities on a daily basis. However, there are some questions that stand the test of time. The infamous debate of nature or. nurture has been studied for decades in different contexts. Learned components and innate genetic factors have both been found to play a role in maintaining homeostasis.


Immune cells are the backbone of the body’s defense mechanism. Immune cells, or leukocytes, make up the immune system and help protect against infectious organisms and diseases. There are many immunodeficiency disorders that can weaken the functionality of immune cells. HIV, leukemia, and viral hepatitis all have the potential to cause serious damage to the immune system, resulting in long-term health issues. Fortunately, by studying possible genetic and environmental influences on immune cells, it may be possible to decimate vulnerability and even strengthen leukocytes. A recent experiment by Etienne Patin et al. attempted to take nature versus nurture to the next level by studying the natural variability of genetic and environmental factors in immune cells.


Etienne Patin et al. designed a study of 1,000 healthy Western Europeans with no known genetic linkage. The experimenters used DNA genotyping and flow cytometry to identify discontinuities between immune cells. Flow cytometry analyzes specific cellular properties within a neutral fluid as it is passed through multiple lasers. By using flow cytometry on a subjective level with a large pool of genomic data, deviation of immune cells delineation becomes prevalent. As far as environmental factors are concerned, situational elements of life can impact the strength and longevity of immune cells. Smoking, age, sex and exposure to infection all negatively impact immune cells.

Art by Vayl Sorensen

By studying the results gathered through flow cytometry and cross listing data alongside genotyping, some extremely interesting correlations were found. Within the group of 1,000 participants (500 men and 500 women), 166 immunophenotypes were found. This number suggests that there are a multitude of different variants within immune cells, causing ranges in susceptibility. It was also discovered that there are 15 identifiable loci (fixed positions on a chromosome) relating to the longevity of immune cells. In this case, the loci discovered exemplify 15 seperate locations within immune cells that can be associated with immunodeficiency disorders. Immune cells that mature throughout the lifespan are driven strongly by exposure, and innate cells are more controlled by variation in genetics.


Immune cells are extremely complex and cannot be influenced from one narrow source alone. By examining genetic predispositions in immune cells, it creates a future of less autoimmune disorders and diseases. The original debate of nature versus nurture is becoming more outdated the more the scientific community matures. The relationship between environmental and genetic influences is symbiotic. It is not nature versus nurture, but rather nature and nurture.


References:


Patin, E., Hasan, M., Bergstedt, J., Rouilly, V., Libri, V., Urrutia, A., ... & Beitz, B. (2018).

Natural variation in the parameters of innate immune cells is preferentially driven by genetic factors. Nature immunology, 1.

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