A Genetic Origin of MS


genetic puzzle pieces

In trying to understand why more Northern Europeans get MS, scientists are onto a clue that suggests that this genetic variant was selected to survive disease.  About a fifth of northern Europeans with MS have a genetic variant in a HLA gene associated with the immune system.  Carrying even one copy of it makes a person about three times more likely to develop MS. 

To understand its origins, researchers traced gene variants in MS and found the gene in question among ancient peoples in parts of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. About 5,000 years ago, they migrated west into Northern Europe. There for some reason, these gene variants were passed on maybe because they provided greater survival or reproductive value. Since MS is an autoimmune disease, the overactive immune system may have helped fight off infectious diseases.  

The change in lifestyle thousands of years ago from hunter-gatherer to farming along with environmental triggers may help us understand why MS has been more prevalent. MS is thought to be caused by gene to gene as well as environmental to- gene interactions.  Evidence has pointed to triggers such as viral infections in people genetically predisposed to MS.  With no cure, perhaps by looking into the past, we’ll find answers for a better future prognosis.

We are Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, at UTMB and Quinnipiac University, where biomedical discoveries shape the future of medicine.   For much more and our disclaimer go to medicaldiscoverynews.com or subscribe to our podcast. Sign up for expanded print episodes at www.illuminascicom.com or our podcasts at:  Medical Discovery News (buzzsprout.com) 

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