Why do Individuals Differ in Viral Susceptibility?

Sluijs, L. van; Pijlman, G.P.; Kammenga, J.E.


Viral susceptibility and disease progression is determined by host genetic variation that underlies individual differences. Genetic polymorphisms that affect the phenotype upon infection have been well-studied for only a few viruses, such as HIV-1 and Hepatitis C virus. However, even for well-studied viruses the genetic basis of individual susceptibility differences remains elusive. Investigating the effect of causal polymorphisms in humans is complicated, because genetic methods to detect rare or small-effect polymorphisms are limited and genetic manipulation is not possible in human populations. Model organisms have proven a powerful experimental platform to identify and characterize polymorphisms that underlie natural variations in viral susceptibility using quantitative genetic tools. We summarize and compare the genetic tools available in three main model organisms, Mus musculus, Drosophila melanogaster, and Caenorhabditis elegans, and illustrate how these tools can be applied to detect polymorphisms that determine the viral susceptibility. Finally, we analyse how candidate polymorphisms from model organisms can be used to shed light on the underlying mechanism of individual variation. Insights in causal polymorphisms and mechanisms underlying individual differences in viral susceptibility in model organisms likely provide a better understanding in humans.