Researchers at King's College London have identified a gene linked to age-related degeneration of the intervertebral discs, a common cause of lower back pain.
Back pain costs the United Kingdom an estimated £7billion ($11 billion in US dollars) a year due to sick leave and treatment costs. Lumbar disc degeneration (LDD) is inherited in 65%-80% of people with the condition, suggesting that genes play a key role. Until now, the genetic cause of lower back pain associated with LDD was unknown, says King's.
For this study, scientists compared MRI images of the spine in 4,600 individuals with genome-wide association data, which mapped the genes of all the volunteers. They identified that the gene PARK2 was implicated in people with degenerate discs and could affect the speed at which they deteriorate.
The researchers say the results show that the gene may be switched off in people with LDD. Although it is still unclear how this might happen, it is thought that environmental factors, such as lifestyle and diet, could trigger this switch by making changes known as epigenetic modifications to the gene.
was published online September 19 in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.