New genes linked to multiple sclerosis risk

1 October 2013

Scientists have identified 48 new genes linked with the neurological disease Multiple Sclerosis (MS), almost doubling the number of known genetic associations.

Researchers from the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium reported the findings from the largest study of MS to date in Nature Genetics. Analysis of the data collated from over 80,000 people (around 30,000 patients and 50,000 controls) showed a significant degree of overlap between the MS-linked genes, immune-system related genes, and genes previously linked to other forms of autoimmunity such as inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease.
 
Professor David Booth, one of the researchers, said that: "every one of those new genes is potentially providing us with a new way to understand the disease and to come up with new therapies for the disease".
 
Comment: MS is an interesting (and distressing) disease, affecting women more often than men and especially people of northern European ancestry; the latter observation may be linked to variations in sunlight and Vitamin-D levels (see previous news). There is also some heritability, with siblings of patients having an increased risk of disease. This latest research is a massive genome-wide association study (GWAS) that provides potentially very valuable new information on areas for productive research into the disease and possible treatments.
 
However, like other complex diseases, there are certainly many different gene variants that contribute to disease susceptibility and these most recently identified can represent only part of the picture. It may be not so much individual genes implicated in a given complex disease that will aid efforts to understand, prevent and treat it, as the gradual identification of a network (or networks) of related genes that represent an axis of pathology. Certainly, this research appears to support the theory that autoimmune diseases share some degree of common genetic origin, despite having very varied manifestations.

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