How outside factors impact MS

U. BUFFALO (US) — Researchers are investigating a trio of environmental factors to determine their influence on the progression of multiple sclerosis.

The two-year project will test the hypothesis that nicotine metabolism, the byproducts of vitamin D metabolism, and increased levels of anti-Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) each interact with variations in specific genes to cause increased neurodegeneration and increased lesions in MS patients.

“We will use a novel approach to measure the levels of vitamin D and its metabolites, EBV exposure, and nicotine metabolites from cigarette smoking,” says Murali Ramanathan, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and neurology at University at Buffalo.

“We have developed sensitive and selective measurements for key metabolites in the vitamin D and nicotine metabolism pathways using mass spectrometry, a method that has not been used previously to study vitamin D metabolism.

Researchers will assess the risk of developing clinically definite MS and the time to progression, as well as the neurodegeneration in the brain of MS patients, as measured by brain atrophy, and the extent of brain injury caused by lesions.

The study will include the genetic variations that were associated with the risk of developing MS, as well as genes that determine the levels and responses to environmental factors.

MS patients will be divided into two equal groups: a training group that will be used to identify gene-environmental interactions, and a group that will be used to replicate the training group result.

“Identifying gene-environmental interactions is critical for developing better strategies for slowing the progression of MS, because it could enable patients with preexisting genetic risk factors to reduce the rate of disease progression through lifestyle modification,” Ramanathan says.

The study results will identify the gene-environment interactions that promote disease progression in MS and facilitate the development of preventive and therapeutic interventions for MS that disrupt these interactions.

Researchers from Charles University in Prague  contributed to the study, that received a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

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