A genetic variant in the galanin gene (GAL) appears to be a risk factor for more severe multiple sclerosis (MS), nearly doubling the risk of rapidly progressive disease, particularly in patients whose disease onset occurs after age 30, a new study suggests.
Researchers propose that this genetic variant could be used to identify patients at greater risk of more severe MS.
The study, “The effect of galanin gene polymorphism rs948854 on the severity of multiple sclerosis: A significant association with the age of onset,” was published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.
Although MS is not an inherited disease, about 200 genes, most of them related to the immune response, have been identified as contributing to the overall risk of developing MS.
Research is ongoing to better understand genetic risk and other factors that may contribute to MS development. This may be a promising new approach to help predict disease severity, and provide a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying disease progression.
The gene coding for galanin (GAL) is an example of a non-immune gene that may affect how MS progresses. Galanin is a small protein widely produced in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system or CNS), and gut, with neuroprotective effects in response to CNS damage.
In the brains of MS patients, galanin was associated with the body’s response to demyelination (loss of myelin, a hallmark of MS), and in animal models, it was linked with lower disease severity.
Earlier research suggested that small variations in a specific region of the human GAL gene — called the rs948854 polymorphism — affects the MS risk in a gender-specific way. The presence of a minor, less common variation increased the risk of MS in men, but not in women, with male carriers who developed the disease later (after age 30) at particular risk. Moreover, regardless of sex, this variant was associated with faster-progressing disease.
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