Study implicates new gene in multiple sclerosis disease activity

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May 15, 2015

A new study led by investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) reports the discovery of a genetic variant that is associated with a patient's likelihood of responding to interferon-beta. Published in the Annals of Neurology on May 14, the study also presents evidence that the affected gene, SLC9A9, may have a broader role in regulating the development and activity of certain immune cells that play important roles in inflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS).

A proportion of multiple sclerosis patients experience disease activity despite treatment. The early identification of the most effective drug for a given individual is critical to impact long-term outcome and to move toward a personalized treatment approach.

To find predictive indicators of a patient's response to treatment, the team, which included researchers from the Ospedale San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in multiple sclerosis patients from Brigham and Women's Hospital, San Raffaele Hospital, and 7 academic multiple sclerosis centers in France, all of whom were being treated with the drug interferon-beta. The variant most predictive of whether or not a patient would respond to the drug was found in the gene SLC9A9.

"This study highlights the fact that genetic variation has a role in the course of a patient's disease in MS, but that this role is modest and will require much larger studies to be understood in detail," said Philip De Jager MD PhD, who directs the Program in Translational NeuroPsychiatric Genomics at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH. "We need to expand this type of international, collaborative science."

Discovered in Italian patients, the observation was replicated in other Italian patients as well as patients in Boston and patients in France. "Further work is now needed to validate our results in other collections of patients, particularly patients treated with other MS medications, to evaluate whether the effect of the genetic variant is limited to interferon beta treatment or is relevant to other clinical MS treatments," said Filippo Martinelli-Boneschi MD PhD, of San Raffaele Scientific Institute.

The variant detected has a confirmed but weak role in multiple sclerosis. However, laboratory work in this report shows that the loss of the SLC9A9 gene leads immune cells to become much more likely to provoke damaging immune reactions.

"Manipulations of this gene in mice and in human cells will lead us to better understand mechanisms that are involved in the autoimmune response that causes MS," said Wassim Elyaman PhD, an investigator in the Program in Translational NeuroPsychiatric Genomics at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH.

A large, ongoing study of multiple sclerosis patients called CLIMB, based out of the Partners Multiple Sclerosis Center, was integral to the current work and will continue to follow patients over the course of treatment to identify predictors of future disease course and the effectiveness of treatments. This work was supported by Giovani Ricercatori 2007 of the Italian Ministry of Health, and by grants R01 NS067305, JF2138A1, and RC2GM093080. Additional support was provided by the National MS Society, Fondazione Italiana Sclerosi, the French MS society Association pour la recherche sur la sclerose en plaques, the Club francophone de la SEP, and the Reseau francais pour la genetique de la SEP. De Jager is a recipient of the prestigious Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar of the National MS Society.

Source: News Release
Brigham and Women's Health
May 14, 2015

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