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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common, complex neurological disease. Epidemiological data implicate both genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of MS, with various factors interacting with one another. Environmental exposures might occur long before the disease becomes clinically evident, as suggested by the wide range in onset age. In this Review, we examine the key time periods during which the environment might contribute to MS susceptibility, as well as the potential environmental factors involved. Understanding the nature of environmental influences in MS is highly relevant to the development of public health measures that are aimed at preventing this debilitating disease.
Regulation of major histocompatibility complex class II gene expression, genetic variation and disease.
Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules are central to adaptive immune responses and maintenance of self-tolerance. Since the early 1970s, the MHC class II region at chromosome 6p21 has been shown to be associated with a remarkable number of autoimmune, inflammatory and infectious diseases. Given that a full explanation for most MHC class II disease associations has not been reached through analysis of structural variation alone, in this review we examine the role of genetic variation in modulating gene expression. We describe the intricate architecture of the MHC class II regulatory system, indicating how its unique characteristics may relate to observed associations with disease. There is evidence that haplotype-specific variation involving proximal promoter sequences can alter the level of gene expression, potentially modifying the emergence and expression of key phenotypic traits. Although much emphasis has been placed on cis-regulatory elements, we also examine the role of more distant enhancer elements together with the evidence of dynamic inter- and intra-chromosomal interactions and epigenetic processes. The role of genetic variation in such mechanisms may hold profound implications for susceptibility to common disease.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Genetic and environmental factors have important roles in multiple sclerosis (MS) susceptibility. Given a potential role for sex hormones in MS, we have investigated whether or not the age of puberty influences the risk of developing MS in a population-based cohort. METHODS: We identified 5493 MS index cases and 1759 spousal controls with age of puberty information from the Canadian Collaborative Project on Genetic Susceptibility to MS. Age of puberty was compared between index cases and controls, and any effect of age of puberty on the age of onset of MS was also investigated. RESULTS: There were no significant differences between male index cases and controls with respect to age of puberty, P = 0.70. However, a significant difference was observed between female index cases and female controls, with average age of puberty being 12.4 and 12.6 years respectively, P = 0.00017, providing a relative risk decrease of 0.9 per year increase of age of puberty. There was no effect of the age of puberty on the age of MS onset in either sex. CONCLUSIONS: Earlier age at menarche increases the risk of MS in women. Whether this association is a surrogate for a disease causative factor or directly involved in MS disease aetiology needs to be uncovered.
Studies in Canada have provided strong evidence that environmental factors act at a population level to influence the unusual geographical distribution of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the available data accommodate more than one type of environmental effect. Migration studies show that changes to early environment can greatly affect risk, and there are recent indications that risk can be altered in situ. The rising incidence rates of MS in Canada implied by longitudinal increases in sex ratio place this effect in temporal context and narrow the candidates for mediating the effect of environment. Similarly, geographical patterns in Australia imply that modifiable environmental factors hold the key to preventing some 80% of cases. Genetic epidemiology provides overwhelming evidence that genetic background has an important complementary role. If genetic factors are held constant, the environment sets the disease threshold. Although these could be independent additive risk factors, it seems more likely that susceptibility is mediated by direct interactions between the environment and genes.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the parental relationship of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) from an extended pedigree with extensive genealogical information up to the middle of the 18th century. DESIGN: Multiple sclerosis is a complex disease resulting from genetic and environmental factors. Parent-of-origin effect, a phenomenon when the same allele may express differently depending on the sex of the transmitting parent, may influence the risk for MS. We investigated parental relationships between patients with MS using extensive genealogical information available from the Genetic Research in Isolated Populations program. We compared the average kinship of the parents of MS patients. We further explored the distribution of shortest genealogical links between parents of MS patients. Subjects Twenty-four MS patients from the isolated population who could be linked within a large complex pedigree, including 2471 people in total. RESULTS: The results consistently indicate a higher prevalence of maternal transmission of MS. The kinship between mothers of patients was 3.8 times higher than that between fathers (bootstrap P = .01). Among the 814 shortest connections between parents, 333 were maternal (40.9%, vs 25.0% expected), 98 were paternal (12.0%, vs 25.0% expected), and 383 were maternal-paternal (47.1%, vs 50.0% expected) (P < .001). CONCLUSIONS: Mothers of MS patients were more closely related than their fathers. This skewed relationship shows evidence for a maternal effect in MS. The most likely explanation is a gene-environment effect that takes place in utero.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system responsible for a large portion of neurological disabilities in young adults. Similar to what occurs in numerous complex diseases, both unknown environmental factors and genetic predisposition are required to generate MS. We ascertained a set of 63 Finnish MS families, originating from a high-risk region of the country, to identify a susceptibility gene within the previously established 3.4-Mb region on 17q24. Initial single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based association implicated PRKCA (protein kinase C alpha) gene, and this association was replicated in an independent set of 148 Finnish MS families (p = 0.0004; remaining significant after correction for multiple testing). Further, a dense set of 211 SNPs evenly covering the PRKCA gene and the flanking regions was selected from the dbSNP database and analyzed in two large, independent MS cohorts: in 211 Finnish and 554 Canadian MS families. A multipoint SNP analysis indicated linkage to PRKCA and its telomeric flanking region in both populations, and SNP haplotype and genotype combination analyses revealed an allelic variant of PRKCA, which covers the region between introns 3 and 8, to be over-represented in Finnish MS cases (odds ratio = 1.34, 95% confidence interval 1.07-1.68). A second allelic variant, covering the same region of the PRKCA gene, showed somewhat stronger evidence for association in the Canadian families (odds ratio = 1.64, 95% confidence interval 1.39-1.94). Initial functional relevance for disease predisposition was suggested by the expression analysis: The transcript levels of PRKCA showed correlation with the copy number of the Finnish and Canadian "risk" haplotypes in CD4-negative mononuclear cells of five Finnish multiplex families and in lymphoblast cell lines of 11 Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH) individuals of European origin. Copyright: © 2006 Saarela et al.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system responsible for a large portion of neurological disabilities in young adults. Similar to what occurs in numerous complex diseases, both unknown environmental factors and genetic predisposition are required to generate MS. We ascertained a set of 63 Finnish MS families, originating from a high-risk region of the country, to identify a susceptibility gene within the previously established 3.4-Mb region on 17q24. Initial single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based association implicated PRKCA (protein kinase C alpha) gene, and this association was replicated in an independent set of 148 Finnish MS families (p = 0.0004; remaining significant after correction for multiple testing). Further, a dense set of 211 SNPs evenly covering the PRKCA gene and the flanking regions was selected from the dbSNP database and analyzed in two large, independent MS cohorts: in 211 Finnish and 554 Canadian MS families. A multipoint SNP analysis indicated linkage to PRKCA and its telomeric flanking region in both populations, and SNP haplotype and genotype combination analyses revealed an allelic variant of PRKCA, which covers the region between introns 3 and 8, to be over-represented in Finnish MS cases (odds ratio = 1.34, 95% confidence interval 1.07-1.68). A second allelic variant, covering the same region of the PRKCA gene, showed somewhat stronger evidence for association in the Canadian families (odds ratio = 1.64, 95% confidence interval 1.39-1.94). Initial functional relevance for disease predisposition was suggested by the expression analysis: The transcript levels of PRKCA showed correlation with the copy number of the Finnish and Canadian "risk" haplotypes in CD4-negative mononuclear cells of five Finnish multiplex families and in lymphoblast cell lines of 11 Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH) individuals of European origin.
The natural history of multiple sclerosis: a geographically based study 9: observations on the progressive phase of the disease.
The clinical features of relapses and progression largely define multiple sclerosis phenotypes. A relapsing course is followed by chronic progression in some 80% of cases within 2 decades. The relationship between these phases and long-term outcome remains uncertain. We have analysed these clinical features within a well-studied natural history cohort with mean follow-up of 25 years. For the entire cohort, median times to reach Disability Status Scale (DSS) 6, 8 and 10 were 12.7, 20.6 and 43.9 years, respectively. Among 824 attack-onset patients, the great majority entered a progressive phase with a mean time to progression of 10.4 years. The effects of relapses often cloud the clinical onset of progression. However, there are circumstances where onset of progression is early, relatively discrete and identifiable at DSS of 2 or less. Three subgroups allow for clarity of outcome comparison and they are (i) cases of primary progressive (PP) disease, (ii) attack-onset disease where only a single attack has occurred before onset of progression (SAP) and (iii) secondary progressive (SP) disease where recovery from relapses allows recognition of the earliest clinical stages when progression begins. Here we compare survival curves in these three groups. Among cohorts of SAP (n = 140), PP (n = 219) and SP (n = 146) where progression was stratified by DSS at its onset, there was no difference in time to DSS 6, 8 and 10. These findings demonstrate that the progressive course is independent of relapses either preceding the onset of relapse-free progression or subsequent to it. Among SAP patients, the degree of recovery from the single defining exacerbation had no significant effect on outcome. The site of the original attack was not usually where progression began. The relatively stereotyped nature of the progressive phase seen in all progressive phenotypes suggests regional and/or functional differential susceptibility to a process that appears degenerative in nature. The highly prevalent distal corticospinal tract dysfunction in progressive disease and the pathologically demonstrated selective axonal loss seen in this tract raises the possibility of a dying back central axonopathy, at least in part independent of plaque location or burden. Despite considerable individual variation, the progressive course of disability seen in groups of PP, SAP and SP-DSS2 is similarly stereotyped in quality and pace and may entail mechanisms common to all forms of progressive multiple sclerosis. The possibility that this is the primary process in some cases must be considered.
The natural history of multiple sclerosis: a geographically based study: 8: familial multiple sclerosis.
We have examined the demographics and long-term outcome of 1044 patients with sporadic and familial multiple sclerosis in a population-based cohort from London, Ontario. The mean follow-up was 25 years in duration, and by this time most patients had reached the unambiguous endpoint scores of the Kurtzke disability status scale (DSS), DSS 6, 8 or 10. An affected family member was identified in 19.8% of the total population, and this subgroup was further divided arbitrarily into the following three groups by the type and number of relatives affected: (i) first degree only; (ii) first degree plus others; (iii) second or third degree. The outcome in these groups was compared with that for those patients who, at a mean 25 year follow-up, had no relatives known to be affected. Familial cases closely resembled those remaining sporadic in both demographics and outcome, although onset in the most heavily loaded families was earlier and male/female ratio was greater. The times to DSS 6, 8 and 10 did not differ significantly when sporadic, familial and familial subgroups were compared. These results provide no clinical support for viewing familial multiple sclerosis as distinct from the sporadic form. The observed recurrence rate for siblings in a strictly defined epidemiological sample was 3.5%, much as projected. These results validate the recurrence risks which have previously been derived from age-corrected data for these first-degree relatives.
MS is believed to be a complex trait determined by genetic and nongenetic factors. Data suggest that MS susceptibility and age at onset are each, at least to some extent, under genetic control. The present study carefully examined five covariates (sex of the index case, sex of the sibling, birth cohort of the sibling [< or = 1919, 1920 to 1939, > or = 1940], age of MS onset in the index patient (< or = 20 years, 21 to 30 years, 31 to 40 years, > 40 years), and MS disease status of the parents [i.e., MS present in one parent or no parent with MS]) that may influence the familial risk of MS in a large cohort of 1,896 MS patients and 8,878 of their first-degree relatives. Of these, sex of the sibling, parental MS status, and index patient onset age were the important factors influencing MS risks to siblings. The results of this study are (1) the index-patient-onset-age effect suggests that individuals with a greater genetic loading (i.e., a greater contribution of susceptibility alleles) have an earlier age at onset and (2) genetic loading is substantially increased in individuals with an affected parent. These data are important both for genetic counseling and gene identification studies.
It has been previously shown that ondansetron, a 5-HT3 antagonist, can ameliorate vertigo in patients with acute brainstem disorders. A coincidental benefit was the improvement of cerebellar tremor in some patients with both vertigo and tremor. To further evaluate this effect, a placebo controlled, double blind, crossover study was conducted of a single dose of intravenous ondansetron in 20 patients with cerebellar tremor caused by multiple sclerosis, cerebellar degeneration, or drug toxicity. The principal outcome measures were the change in blind assessment of a writing task (spiral copying) and the timed completion of a nine hole peg test. Thirteen of 19 patients were deemed to have improved spiral copying after treatment with ondansetron when compared with baseline performance. One patient had a better response to the placebo compared with baseline performance (P = 0.00024). Patients completed the nine hole peg test in less time after ondansetron than after placebo (P = 0.08). Twelve patients thought that their tremor was functionally improved with the ondansetron treatment. None thought that the placebo gave improvement (P = 0.00098). The efficacy of orally administered ondansetron in tremor control is currently under study.
It is now recognized that susceptibility to multiple sclerosis (MS) is determined in part by genetic factors. The gene loci influencing MS susceptibility are largely unidentified. In an attempt to better understand the mode of transmission, parent-child concordance for MS was studied in two large, population-based MS clinic populations. Among 75 parent-child pairs concordant for MS, we found 40 mother-daughter pairs, 13 mother-son pairs, 21 father-daughter pairs, and 1 father-son pair. Controlling for the known female preponderance in MS, the data show a paucity of father-son pairs. These data have implications for understanding the mechanisms of inheritance for MS susceptibility as well as for risk counseling in families of patients.
Review of 146 CTs in 125 MS patients showed that 53.4% (39/73) of those done during acute relapse showed enhancing lesions. Of scans done during the "active" stage of disease, 40.8% (20/49) showed enhancement, whereas only 12.5% (3/24) showed enhancement during clinically inactive periods. Autopsy confirmation that enhancing lesions represent demyelinating plaques was obtained in one patient. This study shows that enhancing lesions in MS reflect biologic activity and are most likely to be seen during acute clinically apparent relapses. More than one-half of the patients hospitalized with acute attacks appeared to be having multifocal relapses. These findings show that acute relapses are commonly multifocal and suggest that they are mediated by blood-borne factors.
OBJECTIVES: To investigate the relationship among attacks in the first 2 years (early relapses), secondary progression (SP), and late disability in multiple sclerosis (MS). DESIGN: Cohort study with follow-up of 28 years. SETTING: Referral MS center. PATIENTS: Patients (N=730) with relapsing-remitting MS diagnosed according to Poser criteria, from the database of the London Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, London, Ontario, Canada. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Long-term evolution of patients with high (≥ 3 attacks) and early (within the first 2 years of the disease) frequency of relapses. In the total SP population and in patients grouped by numbers of early relapses, we assessed the predictive effect of latency to progression (time to SP) on times to attain cane requirement (Disability Status Scale score of 6 [DSS 6]) and bedridden status (DSS 8). RESULTS: Among the group with frequent early relapses (n=158), outcomes were variable. Although 103 (65.2%) experienced rapid conversion to SP MS (median duration, 5 years) and rapidly attained DSS 6 and DSS 8 scores (7 and 17 years, respectively), the remainder (n=55) did not enter the SP phase, despite adverse early relapse features. Among the total SP population, longer latency to progression was associated with lower probability of attaining DSS 6 (odds ratio, 0.76 [95% CI, 0.69-0.84] and 0.44 [95% CI, 0.37-0.52] for 5- and 15-year latency, respectively) and longer times to severe disability. The same association between time to onset of SP and late outcomes was observed even in patients matched by number of early attacks. However, duration of the relapsing-remitting phase did not influence the times from SP onset to DSS levels. CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate dissociation between early inflammatory attacks and onset of the SP phase and further question the validity of relapse frequency as a surrogate marker for late disability. Among the group with frequent early relapses, we observed a large variability of outcomes, ranging from one extreme to the opposite.