Scientists Discover Ancient DNA That Is Linked To MS Gene

gamma knife surgery - Image of DNA strand

The mystery of why some diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) are more prevalent in some parts of Europe is closer to being understood after a recent study by an international team of researchers. BBC News reports that the new information could shed new light on what causes MS and impact on the way that it is treated.

MS is a neurological condition that affects the central nervous system. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective insulating layer of nerve fibres, disrupting the messages between the brain and the body.

This causes a range of symptoms such as stiffness, spasms, tremors, numbness, fatigue, loss of balance, vision problems, pain, bladder and bowel problems, and problems with memory and concentration. The symptoms vary in type and severity from person to person, and can recur and relapse, or get progressively worse over time.

It’s estimated that about 130,000 people in the UK are living with MS, and globally the number is thought to be around 2.5 million people. The distribution of cases around the world is uneven, with very low rates in countries that lie south of the equator, and particularly high rates for countries in the northern hemisphere such as Canada and Scotland.

The new research carried out by scientists from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Copenhagen may shed light on the reason for this uneven distribution. They studied the teeth and bones of our about 5,000 ancient ancestors who entered north western Europe around 34,000 years ago.

These ancient people were cattle herders known as Yamnaya and they came from western Russia and bordering eastern European nations. Scientists have discovered that these people had gene variants that protected them from animal diseases.

However, in the modern era these genes can put us at a disadvantage, making people more vulnerable to developing certain neurological diseases, including MS and Alzheimer’s disease. So far, very little is understood about the exact causes of these diseases and why some people are more prone to them than others.

The experts sequenced the ancient human DNA and mapped the historical spread of the genes in migration patterns over time. The ancient DNA was compared to modern-day samples to shed light on the differences.

Professor Fugger, co-author of the paper published in the journal Nature said: “MS is not caused by mutations – it’s driven by normal genes to protect us against pathogens.”

MS is currently treated by suppressing the body’s immune system, but this can leave the patient vulnerable to infections. Prof Fugger explained: “When treating it, we are up against evolutionary forces. We need to find the sweet spot where there is a balance with the immune system, rather than wiping it out.”

Prof Fugger added: “This means we can now understand and seek to treat MS for what it actually is: the result of a genetic adaptation to certain environmental conditions that occurred back in our prehistory.”

The researchers also found further clues as to why northern Europeans tend to be taller than their southern counterparts.


If you would like to find out more about Gamma Knife surgery and multiple sclerosis treatment, please contact Mr Jonathan Hyam of Amethyst Radiotherapy.