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Saturday, 3 November, 2001, 00:13 GMT
Muscular dystrophy 'hits poor'
Boys with the condition have a shortened life expectancy
Boys with the condition have shortened life expectancy
Boys with the most common form of muscular dystrophy are likely to come from a relatively deprived background, research shows.

The finding suggests that Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and other genetic disorders may sometimes be caused by environmental factors, particularly those that increase levels of stress.

It appears that new mutations in the gene do not occur randomly in the population

Professor Kate Bushby
DMD occurs in approximately 1 in 3,500 live male births. It is the most common and severe form of muscular dystrophy and mainly affects boys.

Boys with the condition will have a seriously shortened life expectancy and may be in a wheelchair by the age of 12.

Although DMD can be genetically passed on, it can also occur through spontaneous mutation of a gene.

The new research suggests that these new mutations may not occur randomly in the population.


A team from the University of Newcastle and the Newcastle Muscle Centre examined the records of 229 families affected by DMD living in the North East of England.

Using a measurement of deprivation known as the Townsend Score, they found that the families of affected boys were considerably more likely to be deprived than families with no history of DMD.

The researchers admit they do not know why deprivation should be linked to DMD.

They say more research is needed to examine the link, and to discover whether the same is true of other genetic conditions which can occur through new mutations.

Professor Kate Bushby, and expert in neuromuscular genetics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, said: "These findings are fascinating because they reveal social deprivation in Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a feature at diagnosis, irrespective of family history.

"We can find no simple interpretation for this, but it appears that new mutations in the dystrophin gene do not occur randomly in the population.

"At this point we can only speculate on the reasons that may be responsible for this, they might include factors that may increase stress such as poor finances, increased smoking, poor diet and living near environmental hazards."

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

See also:

20 Mar 01 | Health
Muscular dystrophy breakthrough
14 May 01 | Health
Motors add muscle to patients
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