BIRC6 modifies risk of invasive bacterial infection in Kenyan children

Gilchrist JJ, Kariuki SN, Watson JA, Band G, Uyoga S, Ndila CM, Mturi N, Mwarumba S, Mohammed S, Mosobo M, Alasoo K, Rockett KA, Mentzer AJ, Kwiatkowski DP, Hill AVS, Maitland K, Scott JAG, Williams TN
Elife. 2022;11

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Invasive bacterial disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in African children. Despite being caused by diverse pathogens, children with sepsis are clinically indistinguishable from one another. In spite of this, most genetic susceptibility loci for invasive infection that have been discovered to date are pathogen specific and are not therefore suggestive of a shared genetic architecture of bacterial sepsis. Here, we utilise probabilistic diagnostic models to identify children with a high probability of invasive bacterial disease among critically unwell Kenyan children with Plasmodium falciparum parasitaemia. We construct a joint dataset including 1445 bacteraemia cases and 1143 severe malaria cases, and population controls, among critically unwell Kenyan children that have previously been genotyped for human genetic variation. Using these data, we perform a cross-trait genome-wide association study of invasive bacterial infection, weighting cases according to their probability of bacterial disease. In doing so, we identify and validate a novel risk locus for invasive infection secondary to multiple bacterial pathogens, that has no apparent effect on malaria risk. The locus identified modifies splicing of BIRC6 in stimulated monocytes, implicating regulation of apoptosis and autophagy in the pathogenesis of sepsis in Kenyan children.Bacterial infections are a major cause of severe illness and death in African children. Understanding which children are at risk of life-threatening infection and why, is key to designing new tools to help protect them. Some risk is likely inherited, but scientists do not know which genes are responsible. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) may be one way to identify bacterial infection risk genes. GWAS look for genetic differences associated with a particular disease. But previous GWAS studies have failed to find genes linked with bacterial infections in African children because they were too small. Malaria is another frequent cause of life-threatening illness in African children. It can be hard for clinicians to determine if a child's illness is caused by malaria, a bacterial infection, or both. Many children in Africa have malaria parasites in their blood, but they do not always cause disease. Most children with suspected severe malaria are treated with antibiotics in case of bacterial infection. Clinicians may then conduct further testing to determine the illness's actual cause. Scientists may be able to use this data on children with suspected malaria to study bacterial infections. Gilchrist et al. show that children with an unusual alteration in the BIRC6 gene are at increased risk of bacterial infections. In the experiments, Gilchrist et al. used computer modeling to identify a subset of children with likely bacterial infections among 2,200 children admitted to a hospital in Kenya with a high fever and malaria parasites. By combining information on this subset of children with data on children with confirmed bacterial infections and healthy children, Gilchrist created a sample of 5,400 children for a GWAS. The analyses found that children with a variation in the BIRC6 gene on chromosome 2 had a higher risk of bacterial infections. This genetic change is linked with the production of a modified form of BIRC6 in infection-fighting immune cells called monocytes. More studies will help scientists understand how this change might contribute to severe bacterial infections. Learning more may help scientists develop new treatment strategies and identify children most at risk.eng