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MS Genetics

December 20, 2005

Some diseases arise as a result of a combination of genes, environmental factors, and chance. Bob Hirshon answers a listener’s questions about one of these complex diseases.


Is there an MS gene? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Multiple sclerosis, often called M-S, is a disease of the nervous system that can lead to vision problems, loss of coordination, and other symptoms. Listener Rosemary Wise of Tampa, Florida, asked us if genes play a role in M-S. Jonathan Haines is a geneticist in the International M-S Genetics Consortium. In a recent study of families with more than one case of M-S, he helped confirm that a gene called H-L-A makes people more susceptible to the disease.

JONATHAN HAINES (International M-S Genetics Consortium):
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease and the HLA gene is one of the important genes in the autoimmune process.

But Haines says the gene confers only a small risk of getting M-S, and some people get M-S without having the gene. If you have a science question, call us at 1-800-why-isit.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.