"Goldilocks" gene may increase effectiveness of TB treatments

A gene the body uses to produce the inflammatory response to infection may also help physicians to predict the effectiveness of certain drug treatments for a deadly form of tuberculosis.

The results of a study by an international team of scientists suggests that there may be a possibility of tailoring TB treatments based on a patient's genetic sequence at a gene called LTA4H, which controls the human body's balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory substances during an infection, according to

LTA4H is being called the "Goldilocks" gene by a team of researchers from the United Kingdom, Vietnam and the United States, because it generates a response to TB infection that is "too little," "too much," or "just right" depending its profile. Both too much and too little inflammation allow the TB bacteria to multiply, according to

The researchers were able to show that by using drugs to block the appropriate biological pathways, they could tailor a level of inflammatory response that would contribute to fighting the TB infection.

"The ability to tailor therapies to these divergent inflammatory states, based on a patient's sequence at LTA4H, could improve patient outcomes," Lalita Ramakrishnan, the senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington - Seattle, said, reports.

TB is a major cause of illness worldwide. In 2009, an estimated 1.7 million people died as a result of infection. Most TB infections occur in the lungs, but approximately 40 percent of infections occur in other parts of the body. A small percentage of TB infections, less than two percent, occur in the brain. This form of the disease is called TB meningitis and is considered the most serious. Even with treatment, it is often fatal.

The recent study, published in the journal Cell, focused on TB meningitis cases diagnosed in Vietnam, but the researchers believe it could have wider implications.

"The findings could apply much more widely than just in TB meningitis, or other forms of tuberculosis," Guy Thwaites of King's College London said, reports. "Since the inflammation pathways governed by the LTA4H gene are central to many infections, there could be implications for many diseases."