, Volume 22, Issue 1-2, pp 19-31
Date: 09 Oct 2010

Leprosy as a genetic disease

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Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) is a human infectious disease whose etiological agent, Mycobacterium leprae, was identified by G. H. A. Hansen in the 19th century. Despite the high efficacy of multidrug therapy (<0.1% annual relapse rate), transmission is persistent. In 2008, approximately 250,000 new cases were reported to the World Health Organization. Clinically, leprosy presents as either the paucibacillary (1–5 lesions) or the multibacillary (>5 lesions) subtype, highly reflective of a Th1 (cell-mediated) or Th2 (humoral) host immune response, respectively. Subsequent to Mycobacterium leprae exposure, epidemiological studies (e.g., twin studies and complex segregation analyses) maintain the importance of host genetics in susceptibility to leprosy. The results of genome-wide analyses (linkage and association) and candidate gene studies suggest an independent genetic control over both susceptibility to leprosy per se and development of clinical subtype. Moreover, the emergence of a shared genetic background between leprosy and several inflammatory/autoimmune diseases suggests that leprosy is a suitable model for studying the genetic architecture and subsequent pathogenesis of both infectious and inflammatory/autoimmune diseases. We provide the example of NOD2 (Crohn’s disease gene) and LTA (myocardial infarction gene) and the implication of a common genetic risk factor between these two diseases and leprosy. The value of leprosy as a model disease therefore extends far beyond this ancient disease to common afflictions of the 21st century.