For the first time, researchers have identified a gene linked to lower back pain, a condition also referred to as ‘lumbar disc degeneration-LDD’.
Almost one-third of women aged 30 to 50 will have at least one degenerate disc in their spine. Degenerated disc becomes dehydrated; loose height and the vertebrae located on either sides develop bony growths called' osteophytes'.
When these changes occur in the spine, the patient experiences excessive lower back pain. LDD is an age-related condition. Frances Williams, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's College, London said that not much is known about LDD despite the fact that this condition has serious impact on the lives of people and is the most common cause for sickness leave.
Williams and her team were the first to suggest a link between LDD and presence of a gene in such patients called' PARK2'. For sometime, scientists have believed that genes are involved in LDD since one in five people with LDD inherit the condition. During the study, MRIs of 4,600 people whose gene were mapped using genome-wide association technique-GWA were examined.
The scans were analyzed using a measuring technique developed by the team. The researchers compared the MRI scan measures with the genome data. They found a strong link between the presence of a variant of PARK2 and presence of degenerate discs.
This made the team suggest that the two were linked and that this gene affects that rate at which the disc degenerates. Williams said that since the gene has been identified, it can be switched off in people with LDD.
The team said that although they could not exactly state how this might happen, they felt that certain environmental factors like diet and lifestyle could trigger epigenetic changes which in turn can switch off the genes.
They said that if disc researchers could take on from here, it could be possible that we will get more knowledgeable on LDD and maybe someday be able to find a more effective treatment for this common age-related condition.