(RxWiki News) What causes multiple sclerosis? There's been a lot of speculation, but few definitive answers. Researchers now believe they've found a troublesome gene that may cause MS in some patients.
A new study has pinpointed a gene blamed for vitamin D deficiency as related to the development of MS. This gene, called CYP27B, may be responsible for the rare cases where multiple members of a family have the condition.
The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking low levels of vitamin D to MS.
"If you have MS, ask your doctor about vitamin D deficiency."
The study was led by Drs. George Ebers and Sreeram Ramagopalan of the University of Oxford. Their research follows up on studies in Norway and Australia, which linked the gene to a higher susceptibility to MS.
Specifically, they were looking at families where four or more members were affected by MS. The researchers sequenced the genome of one of each member of the family, in 43 families. All of the participants in the study had this unusual version of CYP27B.
Some of the participants had two copies of the rare gene. In addition to MS, they had a genetic form of rickets, caused by their vitamin D deficiency. The study's findings strongly implicated CYP27B1 as a cause in these families, and suggests an important role for vitamin D in the development in MS.
Most people get their dose of vitamin D through sunlight. Other studies have found that the closer a person lives to the equator – and more sunlight – the lower their chances of developing MS.
In addition to this environmental factor, this research points to vitamin D deficiency as a genetic factor.
Researchers still have to piece together how much of a role vitamin D deficiency plays in the development of MS, and what other factors may figure in.
The study was published in the Annals of Neurology in December 2011.