AsianScientist (May 3, 2013) – Scientists in China have identified two novel genetic variants associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in the Han Chinese population. Their results suggest that genetic risk factors for ALS in Han Chinese may be distinct from those found in European populations.
In their study, published in Nature Genetics, the scientists analyzed genetic data from over 1,200 people who suffer from ALS and over 3,600 healthy individuals, all of Han Chinese ancestry.
People with ALS suffer a debilitating disease that progressively robs them of the ability to move their arms and legs, speak, and even breathe. Although the most well-known living person with ALS is likely to be theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, another famous victim of ALS is former Chinese leader Mao Zedong who died of the disease in 1976.
The study was done in an effort to identify genetic variants (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) that make people who carry them more susceptible to developing ALS.
Through their analysis, the scientists identified SNPs in two different genomic locations (known as genetic loci) that are associated with ALS in the Han Chinese population. These novel susceptibility loci for ALS were not detected in previous studies that focused on European populations.
In their study, the scientists also analyzed six ALS susceptibility loci identified in European population studies but found that they had no association with ALS in the Han Chinese population.
Elaborating on this finding, the scientists suggest that the genetic factors responsible for ALS may depend on an individual’s ethnicity: genetic risk factors for ALS in Han Chinese individuals may be distinct from those in people of European ancestry.
They also point out that the clinical characteristics of ALS are quite different in the Han Chinese population compared to the European population: notably, the average age of ALS disease onset in the Han Chinese population is 10 years earlier than in the European population.
The scientists propose that further genetic studies on ALS should include people of different ancestries as this will help clarify the genetic and clinical heterogeneity of ALS in different ethnic populations.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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