In a large-scale, genome-wide analysis of more than 110,000 samples, researchers identified 200 genetic loci associated with multiple sclerosis. The study authors said that while the research highlights the role of several different immune cells that contribute to the initiation of this inflammatory disease, the mechanisms that lead this inflammatory disease to target the brain and spinal cord remain unclear.
By comparing the genomes of people with and without MS, the researchers identified 200 variants that were significantly more common among those with the disease. Most of these variants implicate genes that are associated with immune cells and immune system function, including a few potentially specific to brain-related functions.
Interestingly, many of the genes identified were known to also be involved in other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type I diabetes, and ulcerative colitis. This raises intriguing questions about why these diseases target different organs and have different clinical manifestations.
The findings were presented at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) 2016 annual meeting in Vancouver, B.C.