Purpose of review: We provide an overview of the current knowledge regarding the natural history of human type 1 diabetes (T1D) and the documented associations between virus infections (in particular the enteroviruses) and disease development. We review studies that examine whether T1D-specific risk alleles in genes involved in the function of the immune system can alter susceptibility to virus infections or affect the magnitude of the host antiviral response. We also highlight where the major gaps in our knowledge exist and consider possible implications that new insights gained from the discussed gene-environment interaction studies may bring.
Recent findings: A commonality between several of the studied T1D risk variants studied is their role in modulating the host immune response to viral infection. Generally, little support exists indicating that the risk variants increase susceptibility to infection and moreover, they usually appear to predispose the immune system towards a hyper-reactive state, decrease the risk of infection, and/or favor the establishment of viral persistence. In conclusion, although the current number of studies is limited, this type of research can provide important insights into the mechanisms that are central to disease pathogenesis and further describe how genetic and environmental factors jointly influence the risk of T1D development. The latter may provide genetic markers that could be used for patient stratification and for the selection of method(s) for disease prevention.
Keywords: Autoimmune; Enterovirus; Environment; Genome-wide association studies; Immune system; Type 1 diabetes.