Study identifies 57 genes linked with MS

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In a new study published in the journal Nature today, research suggests that the underlying reason for MS damage is because of an overactive immune system – that is, the immune system attacking myelin – rather than other causes that have been suggested in recent years.

10 August 2011

In the largest MS genetics study ever undertaken, 250 researchers from around the world studied the genes of more than 9000 people with MS and more than 17,000 people without MS.The researchers identified 57 genes linked with MS, many of which play a role in the influencing the immune system. The genes identified included those that influence specific cells of the immune system – like T-cell and the role of ‘interleukins’ (chemicals which help immune cells to communicate).

Interestingly, two genes associated with the production of vitamin D were also linked with MS – giving researchers further important clues about the role vitamin D deficiency may play in causing MS.Environmental and genetic factors

We still don’t know for certain why people get MS, but researchers believe that genes and environmental factors, like vitamin D, play a role in determining a persons’ risk of developing the condition. This latest study furthers our understanding of what genes are involved too.

It opens up many new avenues to explore, which include:

• continuing to identify and confirm new genes associated with MS
• finding out more about the genes identified in this study and how they might  influence a person’s risk of developing MS
• researching and developing treatments that take into account the likely causes of MS
• looking more closely at how genes and environment interact to influence an individual’s risk of developing MS

The study was led by researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and was part funded by the MS Society, as well as many other international funders.

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the MS Society said: “By identifying which genes may trigger the development of MS, we can identify potential ‘risk factors’ and look at new ways of treating, or even preventing, the condition in the future. The MS Society is delighted to have helped fund this groundbreaking research”.


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