A sizeable section of human chromosome 6 - known as the MHC complex - contains more genes associated with common diseases than any other area of the genome, particularly autoimmune diseases like juvenile (type 1) diabetes. A paper in Nature uses newly available technology and huge numbers of patients to reveal two MHC genes that are implicated in the development of childhood diabetes.
Joanna Howson and co-workers analyse the MHC genes of 850 sibling pairs from the UK and USA, and then replicated the analysis in independent study sets from the UK and also used additional controls from the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, together totalling thousands of cases and controls.
Other MHC genes encoding members of a different protein group known as class II have been implicated in diabetes susceptibility before. But, by pinpointing disease association to the new class I genes HLA-A and HLA-B, the authors can suggest roles for the encoded proteins in mediating destruction of pancreatic islet cells and accelerating the onset of the disease.
The authors also suggest that their discovery points the way towards vaccination strategies to protect against these rogue proteins and prevent development of type 1 diabetes.
Joanne Howson (Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, UK)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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