Smoking and two human leukocyte antigen genes interact to increase the risk for multiple sclerosis

Brain. 2011 Mar;134(Pt 3):653-64. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq371. Epub 2011 Feb 8.


Both genetic and environmental factors display low or modest associations with multiple sclerosis. Hypothetically, gene-environment interactions may exert much stronger effects. In this study, we investigated potential interactions between genetic risk factors and smoking in relation to risk of developing multiple sclerosis. A population-based case-control study involving incident cases of multiple sclerosis (843 cases, 1209 controls) was performed in Sweden. Cases and controls were classified according to their smoking status and human leukocyte antigen DRB1 as well as human leukocyte antigen A genotypes. Subjects with different genotypes and smoking habits were compared with regard to incidence of multiple sclerosis, by calculating odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals employing logistic regression. The potential interaction between different genotypes, as well as between genotype and smoking, was evaluated by calculating attributable proportion due to interaction. A significant interaction between two genetic risk factors, carriage of human leukocyte antigen DRB1*15 and absence of human leukocyte antigen A*02, was observed among smokers whereas such an interaction was absent among non-smokers. There were considerable differences in odds ratios between the various groups. Compared with non-smokers with neither of the genetic risk factors, the odds ratio was 13.5 (8.1-22.6) for smokers with both genetic risk factors. The odds ratio for smokers without genetic risk was 1.4 (0.9-2.1) and the odds ratio for non-smokers with both genetic risk factors was 4.9 (3.6-6.6). Among those with both genetic risk factors, smoking increased the risk by a factor of 2.8 in comparison with a factor of 1.4 among those without the genetic risk factors. The risk of developing multiple sclerosis associated with human leukocyte antigen genotypes may be strongly influenced by smoking status. The findings are consistent with our hypothesis that priming of the immune response in the lungs may subsequently lead to multiple sclerosis in genetically susceptible people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Community Health Planning
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genotype
  • HLA-A Antigens / genetics*
  • HLA-DR Antigens / genetics*
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Models, Genetic
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / etiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / genetics*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Sweden / epidemiology


  • HLA-A Antigens
  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains