A new research study carried out by scientists from the Technical University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Germany has indentified four new risk genes for multiple sclerosis. These four newly identified genes appeared to be altered in people with Multiple Sclerosis, indicating that a combination of genetic and environmental factors have an influence on cellular mechanisms as the disease develops.
According to the researchers, this new finding has increazed current understanding of how Multiple Sclerosis develops. While all four of the genes have an important part to play in the regulatory processes that take place within the immune cells, they are also linked to epigenetic mechanisms. Epigenetic signals are critical for deciding which of the genes inside a cell become active, and the signals which determine this are programmed by environmental influences. This research clearly shows that in the case of Multiple Sclerosis, environmental factors contribute to the disease, particularly as the hereditary component for developing MS is limited, but it also expands our understanding of how much influence genetics have on the development of the disease.
The German researchers adopted a new methodological approach to their study. Instead of using international samples and different ethnic groups, they chose to focus on a single population of genetically homogenous patients from their own country. This meant that they were able to identify previously undiscovered risk genes. The study involved almost 5,000 patients with Multiple Sclerosis and a control group of over 10,000 healthy individuals, making it the largest genetic MS study that’s been carried out in a single country.
In addition to identifying the four new risk genes, the team were also able to confirm the existence of 12 previously identified genes known to be associated with MS.
Currently there are over 2.3 million people throughout the world are affected by Multiple Sclerosis, with 200,000 people affected in Germany. While there is no cure for the disease, there are approved medications that help to reduce the number of relapses and delay the progression of the disease.
The results of the study were published in the current edition of online journal Science Advances.