London, Mar 10 : Gout has long been believed to be caused by unhealthy lifestyles, but now researchers at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, in Edinburgh have found that a gene variant may also raise the risk of this painful joint condition.
The researcher team, led by Professor Alan Wright, analysed more than 12,000 people and said that new gout drugs may one day target the gene, called SLC2A, and the protein it controls.
The susceptibility of Gout can vary from person to person- some people may have higher or lower risk of gout depending on the form of the gene they inherited.
Normally, humans discard uric acid; a waste product found in the blood, through the kidneys and passes it out of the body in urine. But there are some people who face problem in getting rid of it properly and thus it gets build up in the blood, thereby forming crystals in the joints, leading to inflammation, stiffness and pain.
A number of food types have been held responsible owing it to the fact that diets rich in refined sugars, protein and alcohol increase the risk.
However, the researchers observed that while a large number of people have a diet that is likely to increase the risk of gout, there are just a few who actually develop the illness.
By working out the reason behind this, the scientists found that the SLC2A gene variation might make it difficult for the body to remove uric acid from the blood.
"The gene is a key player in determining the efficiency of uric acid transport across the membranes of the kidney," BBC quoted Wright, as saying.
His colleague Harry Campbell said: "Some people will have higher or lower risk of gout depending on the form of the gene they inherited. This discovery may allow better diagnostic tools for gout to be developed."
While there are millions of people suffering from this illness, currently, there is a dearth of drug treatment for such patients.
Professor Stuart Ralston, from the British Society for Rheumatology, said that he had often encountered patients whose lifestyles did not fit the traditional view of over-consumption.
"Until recently you would associate gout with boozing and rich food, but there are plenty of other patients who are quite abstemious. This might be a genetic marker for gout risk. What is exciting is that it could be a target for new gout drugs," he said.
According to Dr Andrew Bamji, president of the British Society for Rheumatology, the research comes in line with a recent study suggesting that too many sugary soft drinks could trigger gout.
"It appears that this gene also plays a role in the control of levels of fructose sugar in the body, which would explain the finding that soft drinks were linked to attacks," he said.
The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.