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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common inflammatory disease of the central nervous system unsurpassed for variability in disease outcome. A cohort of sporadic MS cases (n = 163), taken from opposite extremes of the distribution of long-term outcome, was used to determine the role of the HLA-DRB1 locus on MS disease severity. Genotyping sets of benign and malignant MS patients showed that HLA-DRB1*01 was significantly underrepresented in malignant compared with benign cases. This allele appears to attenuate the progressive disability that characterizes MS in the long term. The observation was doubly replicated in (i) Sardinian benign and malignant patients and (ii) a cohort of affected sibling pairs discordant for HLA-DRB1*01. Among the latter, mean disability progression indices were significantly lower in those carrying the HLA-DRB1*01 allele compared with their disease-concordant siblings who did not. The findings were additionally supported by similar transmission distortion of HLA-DRB1*04 subtypes closely related to HLA-DRB1*01. The protective effect of HLA-DRB1*01 in sibling pairs may result from a specific epistatic interaction with the susceptibility allele HLA-DRB1*1501. A high-density (>700) SNP examination of the MHC region in the benign and malignant patients could not identify variants differing significantly between the two groups, suggesting that HLA-DRB1 may itself be the disease-modifying locus. We conclude that HLA-DRB1*01, previously implicated in disease resistance, acts as an independent modifier of disease progression. These results closely link susceptibility to long-term outcome in MS, suggesting that shared quantitative MHC-based mechanisms are common to both, emphasizing the central role of this region in pathogenesis.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





20896 - 20901


Adult, Alleles, Disease Progression, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Gene Frequency, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, HLA-DR Antigens, HLA-DRB1 Chains, Humans, Italy, Male, Middle Aged, Models, Genetic, Multiple Sclerosis, Phenotype, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Treatment Outcome