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Possible Susceptibility Gene for Multiple Sclerosis
By Edward R. Winstead

Scientists have identified a gene that appears to be a risk factor for multiple sclerosis (MS) and may cause the disease to progress more rapidly than normal. People who have two copies of a particular variant of the gene, known as CD24, were significantly more likely to develop MS than other people in the study.

Also, people with two copies of the gene variant on average progressed from their first symptom to not being able to walk unassisted eight years sooner than MS patients with one copy or no copies of the variant.

“The importance of this study is to demonstrate that this gene is part of the cause of the disease,” says Yang Liu of Ohio State University in Columbus, who led the research. The study included 242 people with MS and 207 healthy individuals.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. Its symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and loss of balance. The cause of MS is not known, but multiple genes probably play a role. The incidence is higher among the family members of people with the disease than in the general population.

The CD24 variant implicated in MS involves a change of just one chemical “letter” of DNA. This is called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP (pronounced “snip”).

Liu and his colleagues were somewhat surprised that such a small change could make such a big difference, but they had suspected that CD24 might be a susceptibility gene for MS because the same gene in mice is associated with MS.

Liu’s findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study included researchers from OncoImmune, Ltd., which is a Columbus-based company co-founded by Liu.

There is no commercially available test for the gene variant and the researchers are not recommending that people be tested just yet. They want to understand more about the gene’s role in MS, which is not yet clear, and study the gene in other groups of patients.

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Zhou, Q. et al. CD24 is a Genetic Modifier for Risk and Progression of Multiple Sclerosis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100, 15041-15046 (December 9, 2003).


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