WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- A new study on the genetic underpinnings of multiple sclerosis (MS) has identified more than 50 gene variants that may contribute to the autoimmune disease, 29 of which are new discoveries.
About half of the variants are known to be involved in immune system function, and about one-third have been implicated in other autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type 1 diabetes.
"When we look at the pathways, they are telling us loud and clear the earliest stages of this disease process involves some dysregulation of the immune system, particularly involving T lymphocytes," said co-principal investigator Dr. Alastair Compston, a professor of neurology at University of Cambridge in England.
T lymphocytes are immune cells that carry out surveillance against infections. In autoimmune diseases, it's believed that the lymphocytes mistake body tissues as foreign and attack those.
In the case of MS, the body's own immune system attacks myelin, or the substance that insulates nerve fibers of the central nervous system. The damage disrupts nerve signals traveling to and from the brain, which can lead to numbness, movement difficulties, blurred vision, fatigue and eventually, cognitive problems.
The study included nearly 10,000 MS patients from 15 countries and more than 17,000 healthy controls. The research, a genome-wide analysis, was conduced by the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium, a group made up of researchers from 129 institutions studying the genetics of MS.
The large sample size enabled researchers to identify more variants, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, than had been found in prior research, researchers said.
Knowing which genes play a role in MS may help pave the way to new treatments, including the possibility that the commonalities between
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