DALLAS - June 16, 1999 - A genetic trait can predispose people to Gulf War syndrome, a new study has found.
In an article published in today's issue of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, a UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas researcher shows why some veterans of the Gulf War may have gotten ill from certain chemical exposures while others did not.
Dr. Robert Haley, UT Southwestern's chief of epidemiology, led the study with assistance from Dr. Bert La Du and Scott Billecke from the University of Michigan Medical School.
"One of the biggest questions about Gulf War syndrome has been why one person got sick when the person next to him didn't," Haley said. "That is one of the major puzzles that made many people think the symptoms were just due to stress.
"But now we know that there appears to be a genetic reason why some people got sick and others didn't, and this genetic difference links the illness to damage from certain chemicals."
Haley's study showed that people with a gene that causes them to produce high amounts of a particular enzyme did not get sick after exposure to certain chemicals in Operation Desert Storm, while others who produce low amounts of the same enzyme did get sick.
The culprit gene is the one that controls production of type Q paraoxonase, or PON-Q, an enzyme that allows the body to fight off chemical toxins by destroying them. This particular enzyme is highly specific for the chemical nerve agents sarin and soman as well as for the common pesticide diazinon.
In some people, the gene causes the body to produce high levels of PON-Q, allowing their bodies to fight off toxins like nerve gas. But in others the gene directs the production of low levels of PON-Q, meaning a person cannot fight off even low levels of these toxic chemicals well.
Blood levels of a genetically similar enzyme PON-R, which destroys other
chemicals more effectively than nerve agents, were no different in the sick and
well Gulf War
Contact: Mindy Warren
UT Southwestern Medical Center