Gulf War

Genetic Test Predicts Gulf War Illness Severity

Research from the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs medical center has shown that genetically determined immune function predicts Gulf War Illness (GWI) severity. For the nearly 200,000 US veterans affected by it, GWI can include chronic fatigue, pain, mood and cognitive problems, gastrointestinal symptoms, and rashes. All too often, these are chronic and debilitating, greatly impairing quality of life.

These findings, just published in EbioMedicine, found six alleles that could one day help determine who is most likely to develop illnesses like those experienced by these veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War, and how best to diagnose and treat them. By studying their genetic make-up, specifically the Human Leucocyte Antigen (HLA) complex, at least six HLA alleles associated with GWI were identified. This indicates that vulnerability or resistance to symptoms of GWI is heritable.

Another remarkable finding came when comparing the observed allele frequencies with frequencies in the general population: Gulf War veterans with and without GWI differed systematically and in opposite directions when compared with the published allele frequencies. They were higher for healthy veterans, and lower for ill veterans.

Senior author Apostolos Georgopoulos said, "our findings provide a genetic susceptibility framework within which environmental triggers such as vaccines, exposure to chemicals, stress and so on can be discussed, investigated and evaluated… We hypothesize that vaccinations and chemical exposures of Gulf War veterans served as environmental triggers that contributed to developing GWI in genetically 'vulnerable' veterans. Specifically, we propose that the presence of certain HLA alleles in higher frequencies conferred protection, whereas their relative paucity conferred vulnerability. Understanding the genetic factors associated with GWI should help identify the underlying causal mechanisms and indicate molecular targets for pharmacological research."

Dr. Georgopoulos and his team are currently leading research studying larger groups of Gulf War veterans to confirm these findings and identify more genes involved in vulnerability and resistance to environmental triggers, paving the way for improved treatment.



Updated November 25, 2015