Over the course of many years, researchers have studied genetics associated with rheumatoid arthritis. In other words, they have tried to identify which genes are associated with the disease and what predisposes a person to develop the disease. What seemed to be left unexplained was what turns those genes on and off. Why doesn't everyone with a particular gene develop the disease?
According to a report published in the January 20, 2013 issue of Nature Biotechnology, researchers from Johns Hopkins and the Karolinska Institutet suggest that in some diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, there are "chemical tags" that attach to DNA sequences and determine when the DNA sequences are read and how they will ultimately affect disease onset and disease progression. Certain factors affect what causes a tag to be attached to a particular DNA sequence. It can be genetic itself, or a cellular process or an environmental change.
In the study, researchers looked for which genes were linked to rheumatoid arthritis and which of those genes were linked to chemical tags that controlled them. They compared results from 354 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 337 healthy people who served as controls in the study. Ten DNA sites were identified that were tagged differently in the rheumatoid arthritis patients. Of the 10 sites, nine were within a region of the genome known to be associated with autoimmune diseases. The other was on a gene that was not previously linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers concluded that epigenetics related to rheumatoid arthritis will be an important focus of future research.
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