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Lupus Health Center

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Genetic Link to Lupus

More Than a Dozen Different Genes May Play a Role in Causing Lupus
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 19, 2009 -- At least a dozen or more genes may help explain what causes lupus, according to two new studies.

Researchers have identified 12 genetic variants that are associated with an increased risk of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the disease commonly referred to as lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s natural defense system attacks itself. The disease targets the joints, skin, and other organs of the body.

The exact cause of lupus is unknown, but researchers have long suspected that genetics play a role because the disease is more common in some ethnic populations than others and also tends to run in families.

Genetic Link to Lupus

In the first of two separate studies, published in Nature Genetics, researcher Vesela Gateva of Genentech in South San Francisco and colleagues compared genetic markers in 1,923 people with lupus and 4,329 healthy people.

They found five genes that were associated with an increased risk of systemic lupus erythematosus.

In the second study, Jian-Wen Han of Anhui Medical University in Anhui, China, compared potential genetic markers for lupus in 1,047 Chinese patients with SLE and a comparison group of 1,205 healthy Chinese adults.

Their results confirmed seven previously reported genes for lupus as well as identified nine new genes associated with an increased risk of lupus. Two of those genes overlapped with the five found by Gateva’s group for a total of 12 new potential genetic markers for lupus.

Researchers say the presence of these genes, together with environmental and lifestyle factors, such as sunlight, stress, hormones, cigarette smoke, and certain infections, may all play a part in what causes lupus.

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