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Multiple Sclerosis Runs in Families

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Jan. 24, 2002 -- There's new evidence to support the notion that multiple sclerosis is hereditary. When Polish researchers used a powerful imaging device to examine the brains of MS patients' close relatives, they found that even seemingly healthy individuals had subtle signs of possibly impending disease.

Malgorzata Siger-Zajdel, MD, and colleagues from the Medical Academy of Lodz, Poland, looked at 30 first-degree relatives (parents, children, and siblings) of people with MS. None of the relatives showed any signs of nerve problems. Another 15 healthy volunteers served as a comparison group.

Of the diagnosed MS patients, 15 had what's known as familial MS -- that is, at least two other family members also had been diagnosed with MS. The other 15 had what's known as sporadic MS -- when the study began, they were the sole family member with the disease.

The 30 relatives and 15 healthy volunteers underwent magnetization transfer imaging (MTI) -- a test that can pick up subtler brain tissue abnormalities than conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Their findings appear in the January issue of the journal Neurology.

Compared to the healthy volunteers, the imaging tests showed that relatives of people with MS had lower amounts of normal-appearing brain tissue.

This study confirms and expands on earlier research suggesting that relatives of people with MS have an increased risk of developing brain damage than other individuals, said researcher Krzysztof Selmaj, MD, in a news release.

The next question for Selmaj and other researchers to answer is whether these subtle brain changes will develop into full-blown MS and why.

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