Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Genetic 'hotspots' for psoriasis

Psoriasis causes itchy red patches on the skin

Scientists are moving closer to identifying the multiple genetic faults which may cause the painful skin condition psoriasis.

This could mean improved treatments for the painful skin condition, they say.

The journal Nature Genetics reports three studies which bring the number of suspect genetic locations to 10.

However, a UK dermatologist warned hopes that the research would swiftly lead to new treatments for patients could be unrealistic.

Some of the highlighted genes are already targeted by effective psoriasis therapies - others may become targets for the psoriasis treatments of the future
Dr Goncalo Abecasis
University of Michigan
It is estimated that up to 3% of the UK population suffers from psoriasis in one form or another.

The condition has been linked to an overactive immune system, and involves skin cells dividing too fast, leading to the formation of scaly "plaques" of unshed cells on the surface.

It can be relieved by skin creams and light therapy, and some patients are given drugs to slow down the cell division or suppress the unwanted immune system activity.

The researchers, from the US, China and Spain, used techniques to scan the genetic makeup of thousands of people with the disease, and thousands without.

By comparing the two, they could find genetic variations present more commonly in the psoriasis patients than in the unaffected "controls".

No single gene or gene variation is responsible for the disease - instead, scientists believe that a number of variations, working in concert, perhaps in combination with a triggering factor such as illness, could produce the condition.

People with a family history of psoriasis are much more prone to developing it themselves, and the genetic "hotspots" identified by these research teams could eventually lead to ways to work out who is most likely to do this.

'No immediate change'

Dr Goncalo Abecasis, one of the researchers from the University of Michigan, thinks that the discovery may allow further progress than this, with proteins produced at the "hotspots" offering possible targets for future treatments.

"This discovery highlights the role of several genes in mediating the immune responses that result in psoriasis," he said.

"Some of the highlighted genes are already targeted by effective psoriasis therapies - others may become targets for the psoriasis treatments of the future."

However, Dr David Eedy of the British Association of Dermatologists, said that while "interesting research", it was unlikely to greatly impact on the care of psoriasis patients in the near future.

"This study could help scientists understand which genes make a person more susceptible to developing psoriasis.

"However, understanding genetic links to susceptibility is unlikely to translate quickly into new treatments."

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