The genetics of multiple sclerosis: an up-to-date review


Stephen L. Hauser
Department of Neurology
University of California, San Francisco
513 Parnassus Ave. Room S-256
San Francisco, CA 94143-0435, USA
Tel.: +1 415 476 9211
Fax: +1 415 476 3428


Summary:  Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a prevalent inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that often leads to disability in young adults. Treatment options are limited and often only partly effective. The disease is likely caused by a complex interaction between multiple genes and environmental factors, leading to inflammatory-mediated central nervous system deterioration. A series of genomic studies have confirmed a central role for the immune system in the development of MS, including genetic association studies that have now dramatically expanded the roster of MS susceptibility genes beyond the longstanding human leukocyte antigen (HLA) association in MS first identified nearly 40 years ago. Advances in technology together with novel models for collaboration across research groups have enabled the discovery of more than 50 non-HLA genetic risk factors associated with MS. However, with a large proportion of the disease heritability still unaccounted for, current studies are now geared towards identification of causal alleles, associated pathways, epigenetic mechanisms, and gene–environment interactions. This article reviews recent efforts in addressing the genetics of MS and the challenges posed by an ever increasing amount of analyzable data, which is spearheading development of novel statistical methods necessary to cope with such complexity.