Cytokines are the messages cells of the immune use to communicate with each other.
For example, a particular cell may secrete a specific cytokine that then binds to a receptor on another cell that results in the cell performing a specific task, for example by becoming activated to produce chemicals to kill cells that are in infected with viruses.
Several cytokine and cytokine receptor genes have now been identified as risk factors for MS.
In this study the investigators identified that a variant in the suppressor of cytokine signaling 1 gene (SOCS-1) is a risk factor for MS. If you have this particular variant your risk of getting MS is ~13% higher than someone without this variant. Interestingly, a variant in this particular gene was more common in relapsing compared to primary progressive MS.
“This study adds to a long list of variants in immune related genes that are linked to an increased risk of developing MS. Is this important? Yes, it supports the proposal that MS is an inflammatory disease and provides us with potential new targets for treating the disease. Some people criticise this type of research, but the findings of this study add to our knowledge about the mechanisms that underlie the pathology in MS.”
For those interested in reading the abstract of the article: Epub ahead of print – Vandenbroeck et al. A cytokine gene screen uncovers SOCS1 as genetic risk factor for multiple sclerosis.Genes Immun. 2011 Jun 30. doi: 10.1038/gene.2011.44.