What's the latest on MS risk factors?

Discovering and understanding MS (multiple sclerosis) causes and risk factors is a hot topic in MS research. Recent studies have uncovered new information on MS risk factors, including:

Strengthening the virus link. Recently, scientists from Italy and the United Kingdom found traces of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the virus that causes mononucleosis, in the damaged brain areas of people who had MS. The virus was found in immune system cells that had worked their way into the brain. This doesn't prove that EBV causes MS, but it adds to the evidence that there could be a link. Previous studies have suggested that EBV could be triggering MS, but there was no evidence that the virus was actually found in the damaged areas of the brain.

It's in the genes. Researchers with the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium have found 2 new gene variations linked to MS. These genes are involved in controlling the immune system cells that attack the brain and spinal cord in people with MS. On the flip side, the same group of researchers also identified a gene that can help protect against MS. This gene helps the immune system tell the difference between the body's own tissues and foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Finding genes linked to MS can eventually lead to new ways of screening for, preventing, and treating MS.

A family matter? We already know that although MS is not inherited directly, children of parents with MS have an increased risk of MS compared to the general population. Previous studies suggested that the risk of a man passing MS on to his children was over twice that of a woman's risk, but new research suggests the risks for men and women to pass on MS to their children are roughly equal.

Butt out! If you needed another reason to quit smoking, a new study shows increased MS risks due to secondhand smoke. The risks were seen in children whose parents smoked, and were greater the longer the children were exposed to secondhand smoke.

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