Environmental and genetic risk factors for pediatric multiple sclerosis

Investigator: Emmanuelle L. Waubant, MD, PhD
Sponsor: NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Location(s): United States


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling chronic disease with complex susceptibility factors, such as genetic factors and environmental exposures during early life. Although the disease predominantly affects adults, MS is now increasingly recognized in children. Our pilot data suggest that prior Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, and carrying the HLA-DRB1*1501 allele increase susceptibility to MS in children. Intriguingly, the risk conferred by prior EBV infection may be much higher in HLA-DRB1*1501/1503 negative patients, suggesting a possible gene-environment interaction. The primary advantage of the proposed work is to identify risk factors and their respective contribution to developing MS, some of which are potentially modifiable. In addition, identifying interactions between risk factors in this very informative population will enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that lead to developing the disease. Finally, confirming that risk factors are similar in both age groups will provide support for the extension of conventional management strategies from adults to children. The primary objective of this study is to determine if risk factors identified for adult MS such as HLA- DRB1*1501/1503, EBV, 25(OH) vitamin D3 insufficiency, and exposure to cigarette smoking are also risk factors for pediatric MS, and if there are interactions between them. This objective will be addressed in a prospective study of 640 early pediatric-onset MS cases and 1280 matched controls recruited through the Pediatric MS Network, and its Data Coordinating and Analysis Center. The specific aims of this project are: Aim I: To investigate whether genes known to increase MS susceptibility in adults also increase susceptibility in children. Aim II: To investigate whether remote infections with EBV and other common viruses increase susceptibility to pediatric-onset MS. Aim III: To investigate if vitamin D insufficiency increases the risk of developing pediatric-onset MS. Aim IV: To determine if exposure to cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing pediatric-onset MS. Aim V: To develop predictive models for susceptibility to pediatric-onset MS. Pediatric cases with early MS and matched controls will provide blood for genotyping, and viral and 25(OH) vitamin D3 status. In addition, comprehensive data will be gathered regarding environmental exposures in utero and during childhood. Studying the role of viruses and other environmental insults in the pediatric MS population provides a unique opportunity given the close temporal relationship between exposure and MS onset. In addition, we anticipate that subjects in whom the disease develops before adulthood are likely to have a higher load of risk factors, thus allowing for an easier detection of their effects and interactions.