Gene That Resists Sleeping Sickness Might Have a Dark Side

August 15, 2013

Could the high incidence of kidney disease among African-Americans be the flip side of a gene that resists sleeping sickness?

David and Lyn Silfen University Associate Professor Sarah Tishkoff has coauthored a new study that seems to support the idea that individuals who are resistant to human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, are predisposed to developing chronic kidney disease. This could explain why African-Americans, who derive much of their ancestry from regions where sleeping sickness is endemic, suffer from kidney disease at high rates.

In a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, Tishkoff and her fellow researchers look at a variety of African populations which had not been included in prior studies. Sequencing a portion of a gene believed to play a role in both diseases, the scientists discovered new candidate variants that are targeted by recent natural selection. Their findings also show that that the advantages of resistance to sleeping sickness—a disease which continues to affect tens of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans each year—may have played a role in the evolution of populations across Africa.

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