Do identical twins have identical antibody responses?

27th January 2022 – By King’s College London

virus, pathogen, antibody

New research has demonstrated the heritability of anti-viral antibody selection among a cohort of identical twins.

The study, published today in Cell Press and led by researchers from King’s College London in collaboration with the John Hopkins University, investigated for the first time whether epitope selection – the part of the antigen molecule which an antibody attaches itself – is heritable.

There is a high degree of variability in human immune responses to viral infections. The genetic factors that influence this variability are not well explored. TwinsUK is the UK’s largest adult twin registry consisting of identical twins. Identical (monozygotic) twins come from a single fertilised egg that splits in two and share most of their genetic material. As such, most of their differences (either physical or behavioural) are likely to be the results of environmental factors.

Researchers from TwinsUK compared samples from identical twins with fraternal twins to measure the heritability of the antibody repertoire and identify genetic loci driving antibody responses in humans.

They used VirScan, a virome-wide antibody profiling technology, to measure the heritability of epitope selection.

The results found epitope selection is a heritable trait. They also utilised genome-wide association analysis to identify genetic loci linked to Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) antibody epitope selection and identified a key role for HLA-DR (MHC-II) in selecting certain dominant EBV epitopes.

First author Dr. Massimo Mangino from King’s College London said:

“Our study represents the first comprehensive investigation of the contributions of genetic and environmental factors to the variation in the antibody responses to viral infections. It highlights the complex relationship between genetic and environment and may provide a novel framework for identifying genes important for pathogen immunity.”

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