BioWorld International Correspondent

ZICHRON YA'AKOV, Israel - An Israeli team has identified a gene from a simple blood test that has the potential to predict the progression of disability of multiple sclerosis patients, for the first time distinguishing those who will have frequent neurological flare-ups and progressive disability vs. those whose disease course will be characterized by infrequent degenerative episodes and relatively long remissions.

The linkage study of 205 MS patients, published in the current Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, showed that the 41 patients with the apolipo protein E (APOE) gene on the 19th chromosome (and 164 without it, a frequency consistent with that found in the general population), were significantly more likely to become more quickly disabled from the disease, said team head Amos Korczyn, a senior neurologist at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, referring to the work of researchers from Hadassah-University Hospitals in Jerusalem, Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv, and the medical school of Lublin, Poland.

"We found that carriers of the APOE gene, which had been shown to regulate lipid transport into neuron membranes and is a know facilitator of nerve growth, tended to have much faster progression of MS symptoms," Korczyn said. "Other factors advancing the disabling symptoms of MS must be involved because this was not an all-or-none phenomenon," so being a carrier was not the final predictor of deterioration of MS patients.

He said that several European pharmaceutical companies already have expressed interest in the APOE protein as the basis for an MS drug therapy.