January 9, 2009

Genetic variations linked to Kawasaki

A genome-wide association study of Kawasaki disease found the genetic variations that can predispose children to the disease, a British researcher said.

Michael Levin of the Imperial College London and colleagues said the disease, whose cause is currently unknown, is a rare and severe childhood disorder that occurs mainly in young children.

It is the most common cause of childhood acquired heart disease in developed countries, Levin said. The disease is more common in Japanese children and those of Asian descent, but it is found in all ethnic groups, affecting around 1 in 10,000 children of Caucasian descent.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, identified variations in 31 genes which appear to increase a child's risk of developing Kawasaki disease. Some of the variations identified appear in genes that work together to control signaling between immune cells and heart cells.

Epidemiological studies suggest that Kawasaki disease is triggered by an as yet unidentified infection. It is currently treated with antibodies.

This treatment shortens the period of illness and most children recover after two to three weeks, however, it does not eliminate the risk of heart disease, the researchers said.