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Blood group linked to gastric virus

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People’s blood group may dictate whether they get infected by some strains of a gastric virus, research suggests.

A sugar molecule linked to type A blood helps the rotavirus strain invade cells in the gastrointestinal tract, a study has shown.

The virus is the leading cause of severe dehydration and diarrhoea in infants, and causes an estimated 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. Scientists analysed the structure of a key part of a rotavirus strain called P(14). A “spike” on the virus, known as the VP8* domain, interacted with a sugar molecule found on the surface of type A blood cells. Specific blood group molecules are already known to promote infection by the stomach bug Helicobacter pylori and norovirus.

The research is published in an online edition of the journal Nature. Laboratory tests showed that cells modified to produce the same blood group A sugar were easily infected by the P(14) rotavirus strain. The scientists also found that an antibody targeting the type A molecule blocked infection by the virus.

“We never expected this,” said study leader Dr Venkataram Prasad, from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

“Is there an emerging theme here with these intestinal pathogens? Do other viruses use these blood group antigens as a door to enter the cell?”

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