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Genetics increasing susceptibility of women to Multiple Sclerosis

11th January, 2011

A recent study shows that genetic causes are responsible for the greater incidence of multiple sclerosis in women than in men.

In this study, led by Prof George Ebers, a group of researchers from the University of Oxford studied the genes of over 1000 families, where at least one person had MS. In total, genes of 7093 people were examined, of which 2127 individuals had MS.

Researchers discovered that women with MS were 1.4 times more likely to have the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) gene variant associated with MS than men with the disease. As well as this increased prevalence there is a maternal ‘parent-of-origin effect’ with higher numbers of affected mother-daughter pairs and fewer father-son pairs. Findings have also shown that women with the HLA gene variant are more likely to transmit the gene variant to other women in their families than to men. However, the increase in MS among women happened too quickly to attribute causes simply to genetic factors suggesting the environment is also responsible for altering genes.

They also found that an individual’s risk of carrying the gene variant and further developing MS is increased if a second-degree relative also carried the gene variant and had MS rather than if a parent did.

The Australian connection here is with Dr Julia Morahan from the University of Sydney, who is working with Prof George Ebers. Julia has been the Macquarie Group Foundation MS Research Fellowship from 2009, undertaking 3 years work at Oxford University.

Source: Neurology: American Academy of Neurology Journal, January 5, 2011.