Evolution, revolution and heresy in the genetics of infectious disease susceptibility
Infectious pathogens have long been recognized as potentially powerful agents impacting on the evolution of human genetic diversity. Analysis of large-scale case–control studies provides one of the most direct means of identifying human genetic variants that currently impact on susceptibility to particular infectious diseases. For over 50 years candidate gene studies have been used to identify loci for many major causes of human infectious mortality, including malaria, tuberculosis, human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, bacterial pneumonia and hepatitis. But with the advent of genome-wide approaches, many new loci have been identified in diverse populations. Genome-wide linkage studies identified a few loci, but genome-wide association studies are proving more successful, and both exome and whole-genome sequencing now offer a revolutionary increase in power. Opinions differ on the extent to which the genetic component to common disease susceptibility is encoded by multiple high frequency or rare variants, and the heretical view that most infectious diseases might even be monogenic has been advocated recently. Review of findings to date suggests that the genetic architecture of infectious disease susceptibility may be importantly different from that of non-infectious diseases, and it is suggested that natural selection may be the driving force underlying this difference.