Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, with a strong genetic component. Over 100 genetic loci have been implicated in susceptibility to MS in European populations, the most prominent being the 15:01 allele of the HLA-DRB1 gene. The prevalence of MS is high in European populations including those of Ashkenazi origin, and low in African and Asian populations including those of Jewish origin. Methods: Here we identified and extracted a total of 213 Ashkenazi MS cases and 546 ethnically matched healthy control individuals from two previous genome-wide case-control association analyses, and 72 trios (affected proband and two unaffected parents) from a previous genome-wide transmission disequilibrium association study, using genetic data to define Ashkenazi. We compared the pattern of genetic risk between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Europeans. We also sought to identify novel Ashkenazi-specific risk loci by performing association tests on the subset of Ashkenazi cases, controls, probands, and parents from each study. Results: The HLA-DRB1*15:01 allele and the non-HLA risk alleles were present at relatively low frequencies among Ashkenazi and explained a smaller fraction of the population-level risk when compared to non-Ashkenazi Europeans. Alternative HLA susceptibility alleles were identified in an Ashkenazi-only association study, including HLA-A*68:02 and one or both genes in the HLA-B*38:01-HLA-C*12:03 haplotype. The genome-wide screen in Ashkenazi did not reveal any loci associated with MS risk. Conclusion: These results suggest that genetic susceptibility to MS in Ashkenazi Jews has not been as well established as that of non-Ashkenazi Europeans. This implies value in studying large well-characterized Ashkenazi populations to accelerate gene discovery in complex genetic diseases.
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