In Germany alone 8 million patients are affected by RLS, which makes it one of the most common neurological diseases. The patients suffer from an urge to move and paresthesia in the legs in the evening and during the night, when they come to rest, which can only be relieved by moving or walking around. The consequence may be severe sleeping disorders, chronic sleep loss and associated with it daytime fatigue. In severe cases the disease may lead to depression and social isolation. The frequency of RLS increases with age: up to ten per cent of over 65 year olds are affected, albeit in very different forms. Children can, however, also contract the disease.
The cause of RLS has so far been completely unknown. More than half of all RLS patients report about other family members who are also affected, so that a genetic component was assumed to be involved in the development of the disease at an early stage. Various groups of scientists have been looking for the genes which might play a role in RLS for years.
A team of scientists from the Institute of Human Genetics of the GSF Research Center, the Technical University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry have now first identified risk factors which are involved in the development of the disease: under the guidance of Dr. Juliane Winkelmann and Professor Thomas Meitinger DNA chips were used which make it possible to determine 500,000 of the most common variants of the human genome. The distribution of the variants between 400 RLS patients and 1600 test subjects from the normal population was measured. This genome-wide comparison of frequent variants also referred to as genome-wide association study is one of the highlights of genome research this year. Groups of scientists from Germany, Austria and Canada were involved. In all more than 1500 RLS patients and 2500 test subjects from the KORA Study of the GSF, which is conducted by Professor Erich Wichmann, participated in the study.
Contact: Heinz-Jrg Haury
GSF - National Research Center for Environment and Health