Scientists have discovered an intestinal virus that could affect a person’s chance of developing type 1 diabetes.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis found children who have less diverse gut viral communities are more likely to generate antibodies that can cause type 1 diabetes.
However, those children who carried a virus in the intestine belonging to the Circoviridae family were less likely to develop type 1 diabetes compared to children who carried different groups of viruses.
“We identified one virus that was significantly associated with reduced risk, and another group of viruses that was associated with increased risk of developing antibodies against the children’s own cells,” said lead author Herbert ‘Skip’ Virgin IV, MD, PhD.
“It looks like the balance of these two groups of viruses may control the risk of developing the antibodies that can lead to type 1 diabetes.”
Virgin and researchers collected stool samples of a select subset of 22 children at high risk of type 1 diabetes and examined alterations in the diversity of bacterial species and population of viruses.
They matched 11 children who developed auto-antibodies indicative of type 1 diabetes development, five of whom later developed the condition, with 11 children who had no auto-antibodies or type 1.
This analysis led to the discovery of a previously unknown virus related to circoviruses, small viruses that infect multiple mammals but are rarely linked with viral disease. This virus was found in five of the 11 children who didn’t have auto-antibodies.
“Multiple lines of evidence support the inverse association between the virus we found and the development of auto-antibodies,” said first author Guoyan Zhao, PhD. “This suggests that having a circovirus may be a good thing for people at high risk for diabetes.”
Additionally, a group of viruses called bacteriophages, that infect bacteria in the gut, were shown to be more likely to encourage type 1 diabetes development in children.
“Our findings support the idea that Bacteroides or other bacteria, and the viruses that infect them, play a role in the pathological process that leads to diabetes,” added Virgin.
“If these results hold up, we may one day be able to prevent type 1 diabetes by treating high-risk children with circoviruses. It can be a terrible disease and no one knows how to prevent it. Circoviruses are worth investigating.”
The study was published in the journal PNAS.

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