Increased Resistance to Influenza as a Possible Source of Heterozygote Advantage in Cystic Fibrosis

Med Hypotheses. 1979 Jun;5(6):661-7. doi: 10.1016/0306-9877(79)90087-2.


Cystic fibrosis is the most common lethal or semi-lethal genetic disease in Caucasians of Central European origin, among whom it is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait at a frequency approximately 10 times that expected from recurrent mutation alone. A decreased sialic acid content has been observed in cell surface glycoproteins on cystic fibrosis fibroblasts and in numerous soluble glycoprotein preparations from cystic fibrosis homozygotes. Sialic acid residues on cell surface glycoconjugates play an essential role in the binding and infectivity of myxoviruses and paramyxoviruses, including those causing pandemic influenza. It is suggested that increased resistance to these viruses conferred by similar but quantitatively smaller alterations in sialoglycoconjugate structure in cystic fibrosis heterozygotes may have provided a selective advantage to maintain the high frequency of the cystic fibrosis gene in Caucasian populations.

MeSH terms

  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics*
  • Heterozygote*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Influenza, Human / immunology
  • Membrane Proteins / analysis
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Respirovirus Infections / immunology*
  • Sialic Acids / analysis
  • Sialic Acids / metabolism
  • Sialoglycoproteins / analysis


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Sialic Acids
  • Sialoglycoproteins