Understanding how our genes affect susceptibility to specific diseases is challenging, so studying similar conditions in other species can be helpful. The onset of juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM), causing muscle weakness and skin rashes, is linked to viral infections and other stressors, but the genetic factors facilitating its development are poorly understood. However, research on a similar disease in dogs recently identified three genes associated with the pathology. While one encodes an element of the major histocompatibility complex, a set of crucial immune system proteins, the others were not previously anticipated to be linked to JDM. Disease risk is determined by the combination of specific forms of these genes – known as alleles – and can be very high: for example, 92% of studied dogs with the same alleles as this Shetland sheepdog (pictured) displayed characteristic skin lesions. Investigating the human counterparts of these canine genes could yield new insights into this condition.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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