Life-threatening influenza and impaired interferon amplification in human IRF7 deficiency

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Science  24 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6233, pp. 448-453
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1578

A genetic cause for severe influenza

Although chicken soup and plenty of rest get most kids through an influenza virus infection, some require hospitalization. Ciancanelli et al. report on one child who suffered severely from influenza because of null mutations in the gene for transcription factor IRF7. Cells isolated from this patient could not make enough secreted antiviral proteins, called interferons, to halt viral replication. The requirement for IRF7 seems quite specific, because this patient recovers normally from other common childhood viral infections.

Science, this issue p. 448


Severe influenza disease strikes otherwise healthy children and remains unexplained. We report compound heterozygous null mutations in IRF7, which encodes the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor 7, in an otherwise healthy child who suffered life-threatening influenza during primary infection. In response to influenza virus, the patient’s leukocytes and plasmacytoid dendritic cells produced very little type I and III interferons (IFNs). Moreover, the patient’s dermal fibroblasts and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)–derived pulmonary epithelial cells produced reduced amounts of type I IFN and displayed increased influenza virus replication. These findings suggest that IRF7-dependent amplification of type I and III IFNs is required for protection against primary infection by influenza virus in humans. They also show that severe influenza may result from single-gene inborn errors of immunity.

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