Three different studies on genetic factors that may contribute to causing psoriasis have identified a number of new specific genetic targets for research. The studies, performed in the US by the University of Michigan; in China and Singapore by the Genome Institute of Singapore and the Anhui Medical University; and in Spain by the Centre for Genomic Regulation; were published online in one issue of the journal Nature Genetics this week.
The three projects, based on whole genome scans of large populations of healthy individuals and people affected by psoriasis, used statistical methods to find common variations in the genetic codes of patients associated with the condition. Predisposition to psoriasis is known to have a genetic component, as demonstrated by its prevalence in individuals with a family history of the condition.
The 'hotspots' identified by the three studies in total numbered ten. Further study of the proteins produced by the affected genes will provide the opportunity for the development of a new generation of treatments for the condition.
At present psoriasis - a chronic, autoimmune skin disease, characterized by scaly red patches of skin, present in about one per cent of the population - is treated with skin creams and light therapy. However these treatments are of variable effectiveness and with some individuals suffering from total body coverage the pragmatic difficulties in administering such treatments can be significant. In severe cases immunosuppressive steroid treatments can be used to reduce inflammation but this comes at the expense of compromising immune function as well as other undesirable side-effects.
Dr Goncalo Abecasis, a researchers from the University of Michigan, told the BBC that 'This discovery highlights the role of several genes in mediating the immune responses that result in psoriasis', and in particular a genetic variation within a cluster of genes known as the LCE cluster has been found to protect against psoriasis by controlling the manner in which the outermost layer of skin is formed. This discovery may create new ways of detecting the onset of psoriasis earlier in its development. However, as a representative of the British Association of Dermatologists states in an interview with the BBC, whatever advances have been made, it is unlikely that a quick cure will arise any time soon.