Is Brain Inflammation Genetic?

Did you know some brain disorders can be passed down through a family? This article explores whether brain inflammation is caused by genetic factors. We will cover everything from autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, coronavirus and chronic stress.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects over 2.5 million people worldwide. To date, it is the most prominent brain inflammatory disease. With rates that high, you may wonder if brain inflammation could affect you.

Alzheimer’s disease is another brain inflammation disease. In a person with Alzheimer’s disease, a faulty blood-brain barrier prevents glucose from reaching the brain and prevents the clearing away of toxic beta-amyloid and tau proteins. This results in neuroinflammation, which adds to vascular problems in the brain.

If someone in your family has brain inflammation, you’re probably wondering whether you may be at risk as well. While some brain inflammatory diseases are genetic, predicting your risk isn’t as simple as drawing a punnett square.

We’re here to make understanding your risk factors for brain inflammation simple. Read on to learn the genetic factors of brain inflammatory diseases.

What Is Brain Inflammation?

Brain inflammation like that caused by Multiple Sclerosis, is also called encephalitis. We will review the genetic factors of brain inflammation below. But in this section, we will focus on understanding how and why brain inflammation occurs.

Brain inflammation is a natural and necessary process. When you catch a viral infection, one way your immune system staves off the illness is through brain inflammation. Think of the last time you had the flu. Did you experience a fogginess in your mind? Brain inflammation was likely the culprit.

A very common viral infection of brain inflammation is meningitis. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral infection but can also be bacterial or fungal. Vaccines can prevent some forms of meningitis. Symptoms include headache, fever, and stiff neck. Depending on the cause, meningitis may get better on its own, or it can be life-threatening, requiring urgent antibiotic treatment.

Another way brain inflammation may present is through faulty immune responses. Your body thinks it is fighting off a virus and produces antibodies when actually it isn’t, but your brain has an inflammatory response anyways. 

Encephalitis makes your brain expand. When that happens, it cuts off vascular pathways that bring nutrients to it. The resulting sensations often present like flu symptoms in mild cases. These include headaches, fever, and muscle aches.

But, more severe symptoms of encephalitis may occur. These present as confusion, seizures, and even loss of consciousness or brain function. Brain inflammation can even cause comas in the most serious instances.

People who experience long-term brain inflammation should seek treatment early. Waiting can be dangerous. Prolonged encephalitis may lead to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

There are immune, physiological, biochemical, and psychological consequences of these brain inflammation responses. The degree of neuroinflammation depends on the context, duration, and course of the primary stimulus or insult. For instance,  brain inflammation can lead to recruitment of immune cells, edema, brain tissue damage and potentially cell death. The term neuroinflammation, however, is not universally equivalent.

But, recent studies state that even isolated inflammation can afflict people in unexpected ways. In 2001, researchers discovered temporary brain inflammation can cause mood disorders. These range from depression to psychosis.

Now, scientists consider brain inflammation as they develop treatments for mood disorders.

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The Role of Genetics

The genes encoded in our DNA are profoundly involved in many aspects of our health. They act as a sort of blueprint for the construction, operation, and repair of our bodies throughout life. There have been several studies specifically of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis and the chance of early-onset and genetics. 

The effects of a gene can be dramatically changed by mutation of even one pair of its molecules. Specific versions of genes, called alleles, are passed down through a family’s lineage, potentially creating an entire population of people who share a healthy characteristic such as resistance to cancer; a more neutral characteristic such as eye color; or a heightened risk for a specific disease such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or other neurodegenerative diseases.

Natural inflammation that occurs to fight viral infections isn’t factored by genetics. But, other types of encephalitis are. While the causes of Multiple Sclerosis and other abnormal inflammation patterns remain unknown, research supports a genetic factor in their development.

Multiple Sclerosis, for example, requires an intricate interaction of specific risk factors that show the occurrence of inheriting the disease. When that genetic alignment is triggered by a currently unidentified non-genetic factor, Multiple Sclerosis may develop and other autoimmune diseases. 

While research moves forward in identifying the specific cause of Multiple Sclerosis, the genetic predisposition toward it is, in part, identifiable.

Geneticists need larger test groups to fully map the genetic sequences that cause Multiple Sclerosis. But, they have already found a few particular sequences that play a role in its development.

In particular, the most important risk allele for MS is HLA-DRB1*15. The presence of HLA-DRB1*15 can predict a predisposition to neurodegeneration in MS patients.

Another study suggests that high glutamine levels have a connection to brain inflammation. The brain could harbor risk factor genes in glutamine pathways. Glutamine enthusiasts say it helps remove toxic metabolic residue from the brain, which further improves neural function. But others caution that in some people, a serious excess of glutamine could overexcite or even damage brain cells.

Currently, researchers have identified over 350 risk factors for Multiple Sclerosis. Some of these genetic factors overlap with those of other autoimmune diseases.

Which combinations of risk factor genes create the least to the most likely risk of causing Multiple Sclerosis is still under research. But, geneticists have already identified some genes that are likely to cause poor outcomes in Multiple Sclerosis patients.

Also, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNIPS) occurring in the TNFRSF1A gene can worsen Multiple Sclerosis. symptoms.

Finally, there are other genetic factors for central nervous system (CNS) brain inflammation. For example, the sequence TREX1 is linked to inflammation of the brain. This sequence increases the permeation rate of pro-inflammatory cytokines into the CNS.

This phenomenon is common in the brain inflammatory disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Patients with SLE experience a chronic recurrence of the autoimmune disease. It most often manifests in women of childbearing age.

Brain Inflammation & Coronavirus

A newer development when it comes to brain inflammation is Coronavirus. Stanford researchers find signs of inflammation in the brain of people who died from Coronavirus. 

The most comprehensive molecular study to date of the brains of people who died of Coronavirus turned up unmistakable signs of inflammation and impaired brain circuits.

Investigators at the Stanford School of Medicine and Saarland University in Germany report that what they saw looks a lot like what’s observed in the brains of people who died of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The findings may help explain why many Coronavirus patients report neurological problems. These complaints increase with more severe cases of Coronavirus. And they can persist as an aspect of “long COVID,” a long-lasting disorder that sometimes arises following infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Coronavirus. About one-third of individuals hospitalized for Coronavirus report symptoms of fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, impairment and depression, said Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurosciences at Stanford.

“The brains of patients who died from severe Coronavirus showed profound molecular markers of brain inflammation, even though those patients didn’t have any reported clinical signs of neurological impairment,” said Wyss-Coray, who is the D. H. Chen Professor II.

On hearing reports of enduring neurological symptoms among some Coronavirus patients, Wyss-Coray became interested in how SARS-CoV-2 infection might cause such problems, which resemble those that occur due to aging as well as to various neurodegenerative diseases. Having also seen conflicting reports of the virus’s presence in brain tissue in other studies, he wanted to know whether the virus does indeed penetrate the brain.

Activation levels of hundreds of genes in all major cell types in the brain differed in the Coronavirus patients’ brains versus the control group’s brains. Many of these genes are associated with inflammatory processes.

There also were signs of distress in neurons in the cerebral cortex, the brain region that plays a key role in decision-making, memory and mathematical reasoning. These neurons, which are mostly of two types — excitatory and inhibitory — form complex logic circuits that perform those higher brain functions.

“It’s likely that many Coronavirus patients, especially those reporting or exhibiting neurological problems or those who are hospitalized, have these neuroinflammatory markers we saw in the people we looked at who had died from the disease,” he added. It may be possible to find out by analyzing these patients’ cerebrospinal fluid, whose contents to some extent mirror those of the living brain.

“Our findings may help explain the brain fog, fatigue, and other neurological and psychiatric symptoms of long COVID,” he said.

Brain Inflammation & Chronic Stress

Did you know that repeated stress can have a huge impact on our brain, putting us at risk of a number of physical and psychological problems.

The brain is normally protected from circulating molecules by a blood-brain barrier. But under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky and circulating inflammatory proteins can get into the brain.

There is also evidence of chronic stress effects on hormones in the brain, including cortisol and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). High, prolonged levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus. 

Chronic stress will heighten the symptoms of those with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease

DNA Testing for Brain Inflammation

DNA testing can help determine your risk factors for breast cancer or even predict your dating compatibility. So, it stands to reason that DNA sequencing can also determine your risk for inheriting brain inflammation and other autoimmune diseases.

As we mentioned before, predicting your risk for brain inflammation isn’t as simple as predicting whether your child will have brown or blue eyes. The triggers of brain inflammation are largely exogenetic.

What DNA testing can do is identify whether you carry any combination of risk factor genes for brain inflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis.

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When you order Sequencing.com’s ultimate genome sequencing kit, you will receive a test package in the mail. First, you should follow the instructions in your kit. Then, you will send your kit to our sequencing experts who will upload the data to your secure profile.

We test for many of the risk factors associated with brain inflammation and multiple sclerosis. Included in your results are insights from our clinical team into what the presence of certain sequences means for your health.

With the help of our insights, you can better understand your genetic predispositions. If you don’t carry any of the risk factor genes, that’s great. The DNA information can still be useful to you in other ways.

If you have some risk factors, it’s vital that you found out early. Now you can take your results to your doctor and talk about preventative and ongoing treatment options.

Sequencing.com’s DNA analysis is your first step toward an effective preventative healthcare plan.

Get your DNA Sequencing Kit Today

Your risk for brain inflammation is not the only information you will uncover with a Sequencing.com DNA kit. Our top-of-the-line DNA sequencing finds more genetic data than ever before. 

Our ultimate genome sequencing kit uncovers more than 5,000 times the data that Ancestry or 23 and Me does. That means you get the most accurate wellness report, longevity screen, and rare disease screen of any DNA kit on the market.

Don’t hesitate to learn more about your genes. Check out our DNA kits today!

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