Exposure to organic solvents like such as paint or varnish greatly raises the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), particularly in people who smoke or have a genetic susceptibility to the disease, a large-scale Swedish study reports.
In fact, solvent exposure — linked to occupation, like being a painter or working in a paint factory — raised risk by 50 percent compared to those with no such long-term exposure, and was higher still when smoking or genes also came into play. Exposure time, the number of years a person worked with paints or varnish, was not defined by the researchers.
The study, “Organic solvents and MS susceptibility, Interaction with MS risk HLA genes,” was published in the journal Neurology.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to develop in people based on a mix of genes and the environment. The strongest genetic risk factors are variations localized in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes: the HLA-DRB1*15 variant increases the likelihood of the disease by three times, while HLA-A*02 reduces the odds by half.
But a growing body of data indicates that exposure to certain environmental factors also plays an essential role in determining risk. Factors here include Epstein-Barr virus infection, vitamin D status, sun exposure habits, adolescent obesity, and smoking.
When combined with a genetic predisposition, environmental harm may enlarge this existing risk of developing MS.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden used a population-based case-control study to investigate the influence of occupational exposure to organic solvents — recently also suggested as an environmental factor — to the risk of developing MS. Synergistic links with genetic HLA variations and smoking habits were included in their investigation.
The team hypothesized that exposure to sources of lung irritation — smoking, paint or varnish fumes — may elicit an autoimmune response that can lead to MS in people with a genetic predisposition for the disease.
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