Viking gene suspected factor in multiple sclerosis
The genetic heritage of the Vikings could be a factor in the spread of the degenerative neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).
Researchers have noticed high concentrations of MS in Scandinavia and Northeast Scotland, areas with large Viking settlements in the past. In Finland, areas where MS occurs more frequently than elsewhere include Ostrobothnia, the upper reaches of the Eurajoki and Kokemäenjoki rivers, and in the northeast of the southern area of Uusimaa.
Dr. Pentti Tienari of the Clinic of Neurology at the Helsinki University Central Hospital has studied the prevalence of MS in Finland. MS appears to be most frequent in areas where the population is largely of Northern European origin. In North America the disease is most common in Southern Canada and in the parts of Minnesota where large numbers of Finns settled. The disease is rare in Asia and Africa. "The most recent studies in molecular genetics in different universities suggest that the effect of genes on the geographic appearance of the disease is greater in Finland than previously believed", Tienari says. Currently experts feel that MS is not caused by genetic factors alone. Instead its emergence is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Seven genes believed to increase the risk of MS have been identified in Finland. Certain genetic factors have accumulated in the population of South Ostrobothnia, which are found among MS patients in the area. According to Tienari, they suggest that genes with an MS risk factor were brought into the area with a fairly small original population. Over generations, the factors became more firmly established within the limited gene pool with little dilution from outside. Kyrönmaa, a coastal region in Ostrobothnia, has an exceptionally high frequency of MS. Experts believe that large numbers of people moved to the area in the 13th century from the Kokemäenjoki and Eurajoki areas, which also have high concentrations of the disease. Residents of the areas on the two rivers are known to have had close contacts with Vikings about 1,000 years ago. In other parts of Europe, scientists have noticed a correlation between the frequency of MS and a history of a Viking presence.