Genetic risk factor links Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple sclerosis

In collaboration with the Press Association

A genetic variant previously shown to be a risk factor for multiple sclerosis (MS) may also increase the risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma, according to a study from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London.

Researchers identified two new genetic markers that increase the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma, bringing the total number of genetic risk factors for the disease to five.

Both variants play a role in immune system development and may offer clues about the links between immunity and cancer.

Professor Alan Ashworth, Chief Executive of the ICR, said: "Our immune systems must strike a fine balance between on the one hand remaining vigilant to infections or abnormalities such as cancer, and on the other not becoming over-active, and attacking the body's own tissues."

The researchers compared the genetic make-up of 3,489 Hodgkin lymphoma patients and 8,270 people without the disease.

They found 27 single letter changes in DNA, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that could potentially increase the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Two of the SNPs significantly increased the chances of developing the disease and the researchers found that one variant, linked to a gene called EOMES, is also a known risk factor for MS.

Professor Richard Houlston, an author on the study, said: "Our study found for the first time that a genetic variant known to be a risk factor for multiple sclerosis is linked to Hodgkin lymphoma, showing that the two diseases might share a common mechanism."

"The risk factor is linked to a gene called EOMES, which is important for the immune response, providing new insights into the biological basis of Hodgkin lymphoma."

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, the network of vessels through which tissue fluid drains from the tissues into the blood.

More than 1,800 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma every year, and up to half of these have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever.

But research from the ICR and others suggests an increasingly important role for genetic factors.

Professor Ashworth added: "Cancer appears to be, in part, a disease of an underactive immune system, while autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis are caused by the body's immune system working in overdrive and attacking itself."

Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, said: "The weaknesses of each cancer are written in its genes, and by uncovering the genetic faults at the heart of the disease we are finding clues for ways to fight it."

"This research, partly funded by Cancer Research UK, not only sheds light on the role of the immune system in cancer but will also spark ideas for new ways to tackle Hodgkin lymphoma through better, kinder treatments."

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Copyright Press Association 2013

Notes to Editor

  • Frampton M, et al.(2013). Variation at 3p24.1 and 6q23.3 influences the risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Nature Communications, 4 DOI: