A new study has shown that women pass on the multiple sclerosis (MS) gene more commonly than men to their offspring. The team analyzed DNA of more than 7,000 people and found that women were also more likely to pass on the gene to female relatives. This may explain why women are up to three times more likely to get MS than men. The study was funded by the MS Society and led by George Ebers at Oxford University. It was published in the journal Neurology.
The authors write that in the 1950’s about the same number of men and women had MS but since then the ratio of women to men had risen to 2:1 in the US and 3:1 in Scotland. Of the 10,000 people living with the disease in Scotland, about 6500 are women, the MS Society said. They write, “There is general consensus that the incidence and prevalence of MS has been rising with an increased penetrance among women … Moreover, there is a maternal parent-of-origin effect with higher number of affected mother-daughter pairs …” However what is puzzling is the short time in which the increase in women sufferers has risen – a duration that cannot be blamed on genes alone. The paper reads, “The exact cause of this increase remains unknown, but given the short duration over which this rise occurs … environmental changes would be the likely candidate, perhaps resulting from gene-environment interactions.”
Dr Jayne Spink, director of policy and research at the MS Society, said, “The exact cause of MS is still unknown but this study helps solve a vital part of the puzzle which we hope will lead to ways to reduce the risk of developing MS in future generations. There’s lots that we need to learn about how genes and the environment interact. It will offer us the potential for preventing MS in at-risk individuals and also the potential to develop really targeted treatment.”