MS is a complex disorder in which several unknown genetic and environmental factors damage the central nervous system. An individual’s risk of developing MS increases if a close family member has MS. However, there is currently no way to predict which family members will develop MS.

The Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) is a US based multi-centre study that aims to identify the genetic, environmental and immune profiles that may increase a person’s risk of developing MS.

In this study, which was part of GEMS, researchers analysed the genes and backgrounds of people who had no symptoms of MS, but who had close family members with MS. They recruited 100 participants who they classified in two groups; 41 at higher risk (40 women [98%]) and 59 at lower risk (25 women [42%]). Each participant’s risk was assessed using a weighted score comprising an individual’s genetic burden and environmental exposures.  Given the unequal sex distribution between the 2 groups, the analyses were restricted to women (n = 65).

In a subgroup of 47 of the women, those at higher risk showed significantly poorer performance in a neurological vibration sensitivity test. In addition, five out of the total 65 women in the study (4 in the higher risk group and 1 in the lower risk group) showed early signs of MS in MRI examinations.

The authors concluded that people with a higher risk of MS who also have a close relative with MS are more likely to have early subclinical manifestations (with no noticeable symptoms) of MS, which underlines the importance of early detection in higher risk individuals.

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