“The finding reinforces the idea that MS is a so-called autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s own immunological defence,” says Prof. Jan Hillert of the Karolinska Institute. He is leading one of the two research groups – one Swedish and one American – that are behind the discovery, information on which is being published in two articles in this month’s issue of Nature Genetics.

MS is a chronic inflammatory disease of the brain and spinal marrow that affects young adults and often leads to disability. About 12,000 people in Sweden have MS. The risk of contracting MS largely depends on hereditary disposition – genes – but hitherto only one of what are probably many genes have been definitively identified.

The newly discovered gene, IL7R, expresses an important signalling molecule in the immune system that is of particular importance for the so-called T-cells. As long as two years ago Jan Hillert’s research group published data that supports the importance of IL7R in connection with MS.

The current Swedish study is based on samples from over 5,000 individuals from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, and provides strong statistical evidence that IL7R entails a significant risk of contracting the disease.

In an article in the net-based journal PLoS One this week, Hillert’s research group is also publishing a study that demonstrates that a previously known genetic factor actually comprises at least two different genes that independently affect the risk of MS.

“It shows that more parts of the immune system are involved than we previously thought,” says Jan Hillert.

Publications:

‘Variation in interleukin 7 receptor alpha chain (IL7R) influences risk of multiple sclerosis’, Frida Lundmark, Kristina Duvefelt, Ellen Iacobaeus, Ingrid Kockum, Erik Wallström, Mohsen Khademi, Annette Oturai, Lars P Ryder, Janna Saarela, Hanne F Harbo, Elisabeth G Celius, Hugh Salter, Tomas Olsson & Jan Hillert, Nature Genetics, Online 29 July

‘HLA-A Confers an HLA-DRB1 Independent Influence on the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis’, Boel Brynedal, Kristina Duvefelt, Gudrun Jonasdottir, Izaura M. Roos, Eva Åkesson, Juni Palmgren, Jan Hillert, PLoS, Online 25 July

For further information please contact:
Prof. Jan Hillert,
Institute for Clinical Neurosciences
Tel.: +46 (0)8-585 870 80
Mob.: +46 (0)70-585 10 21
E-mail: jan.hillert@ki.se

Sabina Bossi, Press Officer
Tel.: +46 (0)8-524 860 66
Mob.: +46 (0)70-614 860 66
E-mail: Sabina.bossi@ki.se

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