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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 12:46 GMT
Genetic clue to sleepwalking
Up to 3% of adults sleepwalk
Scientists believe they may be a step closer to developing an effective treatment for sleepwalking.

It follows the discovery of a genetic marker which may make people susceptible to sleepwalking.

The condition affects around half of young children and up to 3% of adults.

Sleepwalking is a complex disorder

Dr Mahdi Tafti
Most incidents are harmless. However, in some cases people can injure themselves or others.

A team of European scientists examined a family of genes known as HLA genes.

They provide the information needed to allow the body to create immune cells.

Genetic test

They have also been linked to a number of sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy.

The scientists carried out tests on 60 people with a history of sleepwalking and 60 people without the condition to see if these genes also played a role in sleepwalking.

They found that people with the condition were 3.5 times more likely to have a sub-type, called HLA-DQB1.

They believe that this variation in their genetic make-up leaves them more susceptible to sleep-walking.

Dr Mahdi Tafti, a Swiss scientist involved in the study, said: "We found a strong association between the condition and this gene variation."

He added: "This is not a sleepwalking gene but if you have this variant, you have a 3.5 times higher risk of sleepwalking.

"The figure is even higher if there is a history of sleepwalking in your family."

However, speaking to BBC News Online he emphasised that sleepwalking was a complicated condition.

He said further research was needed before scientists could develop an effective treatment for the condition.

"Sleepwalking is a complex disorder, which is influenced by environment and stress. It is not a simple genetic condition," he said.

"We may in the future be able to use this information to develop treatments for sleepwalking."

The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | Health
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19 Sep 01 | Health
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