Scientists are gaining greater understanding of the genetics behind multiple sclerosis -- an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system -- with the discovery of 48 genetic variants that are linked with the condition.
The discovery of these genetic variants, which is detailed in a study in the journal Nature Genetics, brings the total number of known genetic risk factors for the disease to a total of 110.
Individually, each genetic variant is only responsible for a very small risk for multiple sclerosis. But when taken together, the 110 genetic variants "explain approximately 20 percent of the genetic component of the disease," according to a news release on the finding.
"Describing the genetic underpinnings of any complex disease is a complicated but critical step. By further refining the genetic landscape of multiple sclerosis and identifying novel genetic associations, we are closer to being able to identify the cellular and molecular processes responsible for MS and therefore the specific biological targets for future drug treatment strategies," study researcher Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., of the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in a statement.
Researchers used technology called ImmunoChip to identify the genetic variants. They analyzed DNA from 50,794 healthy people and 29,300 people with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is a condition where the immune system attacks the protective sheath around the nerves, leading to nerve deterioration, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the nerve damage. While there is no cure for the condition, treatments can help to slow its progress.