A recent study at Oxford University in England and published in Annals of Neurology, has identified a gene that causes vitamin D deficiency, a condition suspected of having a role in the development of MS.
The study examined the DNA of a group of people with MS who also have a large number of family members with the disease. All the DNA samples showed a distortion of the CYP27B1 gene which controls vitamin D levels in the body. And in a few rare cases where the DNA showed two copies of the distorted gene, the person was found to have a genetic form of rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency as well as MS.
The cause of myelin damage related to MS is still hotly debated: some believe it to be an autoimmune disease while others cite viruses or the environment as the culprit. There is growing evidence however of a correlation between MS and vitamin D deficiency. Epidemiological studies also show that populations closer to the equator and the sun, have far fewer case of MS than populations closer to the north or south poles. Researchers at Oxford University have now taken this premise a step further by showing that vitamin D deficiency and therefore possibly MS could have a genetic cause.
Despite this pivotal link, not all people with vitamin D deficiency develop MS. More research is needed to fully understand why. However, a distortion of the CYP27B1 gene is increasingly apparent in MS cases and it’s possible that the gene generates other, yet undetected, complications that lead to the disease—such as genetically caused rickets.
“Although vitamin D deficiency doesn’t always cause MS, it unveiled a critical genetic source that could be causing other problems that lead to MS,” says Jeffrey Epstein, whose foundation partially supported the study. “Even if we don’t understand all of the implications of that gene’s distortion, research can focus on gene therapy, and that will accelerate a cure.”
The study was partly funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The Wellcome Trust and the support of science investor, Jeffrey Epstein and The Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation.