Home Health & Wellness Ancient Pastoralist Genes Linked to Modern Multiple Sclerosis Risk, Finds New Study

Ancient Pastoralist Genes Linked to Modern Multiple Sclerosis Risk, Finds New Study

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A new study has established a significant link between ancient genetic risk factors and the prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) in modern populations. The research, published in Nature, suggests that genetic predispositions for MS may have originated in steppe pastoralist populations about 5,000 years ago.

MS, a debilitating autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord, affects over 2.5 million people globally. The study utilised ancient genome datasets, spanning from the Mesolithic period to the Bronze Age, alongside new Medieval and post-Medieval genomes, revealing that MS-associated genetic variants rose among pastoralists from the Pontic steppe. These variants were later brought into Europe by Yamnaya-related migrations, signifying a pivotal role of this period in shaping modern immune responses and MS risk.

Researchers observed that these immunogenetic variants underwent positive selection in the steppe population and later in Europe. This adaptation was likely driven by pathogenic challenges, coinciding with significant changes in diet, lifestyle, and population density. The study highlights the complex interplay between genetics and environmental factors in the development of autoimmune diseases like MS.

The study provides insights into why MS is more prevalent in Europe, especially Northern Europe, suggesting that the steppe ancestry gradient, particularly in the HLA region, could be a contributing factor. This connection underscores the importance of considering historical genetic developments alongside current environmental factors in understanding the prevalence of autoimmune diseases.

The MS-associated variants, while historically advantageous in providing resistance to several pathogens, now pose a heightened risk for MS in the present. The study emphasises the changing implications of genetic traits over time, particularly in response to lifestyle shifts and environmental challenges.

The research also examined genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), another autoimmune disease. Contrasting with MS, genetic risk for RA was found to be higher in Mesolithic hunter-gatherer ancestry and has decreased over time. This difference underscores the distinct evolutionary pathways of autoimmune diseases.

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