Ancient DNA Sheds Light on Higher Risk of Multiple Sclerosis in Northern Europeans
New research on ancient DNA has provided insights into why northern Europeans have a higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) compared to other ancestries. The study, which was conducted by a team of scientists, compared modern DNA with ancient DNA extracted from teeth and bones, allowing them to trace prehistoric migration patterns and identify disease-linked genes.
One of the key findings of the study was that the Yamnaya people, who lived during the Bronze Age in Ukraine and Russia, carried gene variants that increase the risk of developing MS. These gene variants were widely spread by the Yamnaya, potentially providing them protection against infections carried by their cattle and sheep.
The research project relied on a gene bank that contains thousands of samples from early humans in Europe and western Asia. By examining the DNA from ancient Eurasians and comparing it to present-day individuals, the researchers discovered that the MS-linked genetic variations persist in the northern regions where the Yamnaya migrated.
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that primarily affects individuals of northern European descent. It occurs when immune system cells mistakenly attack nerve fibers, leading to a range of symptoms. Despite its prevalence, scientists have been unable to fully explain why MS is most common among white descendants of northern Europeans.
The study’s authors suggest that modern human exposure to animal germs may play a role in the development of MS. This theory aligns with the Yamnaya’s close association with cattle and sheep and their increased risk of MS due to the gene variants they carried.
While these findings offer an explanation for the north-south divide in MS prevalence in Europe, further research is needed to confirm the link between ancient DNA and the risk of developing the disease. The study serves as a reminder of the valuable insights that can be gleaned from studying ancient DNA and its impact on our understanding of complex diseases like multiple sclerosis.
The results of this research highlight the importance of continued exploration into the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to MS. This knowledge could have significant implications for improving prevention strategies and developing new treatments for those at risk or already affected by this debilitating condition.