The genetics of multiple sclerosis involved in immune system function

A study carried out by the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium, a group made up of researchers from 129 institutions studying the genetics of multiple sclerosis (MS) has identified more than 50 gene variants that may contribute to the autoimmune disease. Of these, 29 are new discoveries. Half the gene variants have been implicated in immune system function and one third in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, coeliac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type 1 diabetes.

The evidence suggests that the early stages of MS involves a dysregulation of the immune system, specifically the T lymphocytes. These cells are the watch dogs of the immune system, carrying out surveillance against infection, but in autoimmune disease they mistake body tissues for infection and attack them. In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that insulates the nerve fibres of the central nervous system, which in turn disrupts nerve signals to and from the brain. People with MS suffer from numbness, movement difficulties, blurred vision, fatigue and cognitive problems.

Knowing which genes play a role in MS and the commonalities between MS and other autoimmune diseases mean that certain existing treatments may be used successfully between the diseases. New treatments can also be developed, because the general processes that occur in autoimmunity are shared.

However Dr Alastair Compston, a professor of neurology at Cambridge University, UK, said that why a common set of problems should lead to diabetes in one person and MS in another remains a mystery. The research should however put to rest any doubts that MS is indeed an autoimmune disease.

Source: Nature


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First Publishd in August 2011

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