Key viral immune genes and pathways identify elite athletes with URS

Candice Colbey, Michael K Drew, Amanda J Cox, Jelena Vider, David B Pyne, Nicole Vlahonich, David Hughes, Gordon Waddington, Renee Appaneal, Louise M Burke, Bronwen Lundy, Mary Toomey, David Watts, Gregory Lovell, Stephan Praet, Shona L Halson, Marijke Welvaert, Ping Zhang, Allan W Cripps, Nicholas P West

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    PURPOSE: Habitual intense exercise may increase the incidence of upper respiratory symptoms (URS) in elite athletes. This study investigated whether immune gene expression could identify gene markers that discriminate athletes with a higher prevalence of URS.

    METHODS: This cross-sectional analysis of elite Australian athletes from various sports investigated whether athletes retrospectively reporting URS for two days or more in a month (n=38), had an altered immune gene expression profile compared with asymptomatic athletes (n=33). Peripheral blood samples were collected during Olympic selection events with corresponding URS data collected for the one-month period before sampling. Digital immune gene expression analysis was undertaken using the NanoString PanCancer Immune Profiling panel.

    RESULTS: Fifty immune genes were differentially expressed between the groups (p<0.05) and approximately 78% of these genes were more highly expressed in athletes reporting URS. Many of these genes were interferon-stimulated genes or genes involved in the Jak/Stat signalling pathway. Only interferon alpha inducible protein 27 (IFI27), an interferon stimulated gene involved in viral response, remained significantly higher in athletes reporting URS (log2 fold-difference=2.49, odds ratio 1.02 per unit increase; p<0.01) post-adjustment and discriminated athletes reporting URS from asymptomatic athletes with 78% accuracy.

    CONCLUSIONS: Expression of IFI27 could differentiate athletes reporting URS from asymptomatic athletes, a gene that is upregulated in the immune response to viral infection. Upregulation of viral signalling pathways provides novel information on the potential aetiology of URS in elite Olympic athletes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)56-78
    Number of pages23
    JournalExercise Immunology Review
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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