Why psoriasis is less common in Asians

| Melissa Leavitt

New research supported by the National Psoriasis Foundation has identified a possible reason why psoriasis is more prevalent in some ethnicities than in others.

An international study comparing DNA from Caucasian and Chinese individuals found that some of the genes associated with psoriasis may only lead to the disease in Caucasians, and not Chinese people. The results of the study, which involved more than 15,000 people with psoriasis and almost 20,000 people without psoriasis, were published in Nature Communications in April.

Psoriasis can be caused, in part, by genetic risk factors. People with psoriasis may have a version, or variation, of a certain gene that could lead to the disease. 

So far, scientists have discovered about 60 genetic risk factors for psoriasis, according to Dr. Wilson Liao, a dermatologist at University of California, San Francisco who is an author of the study and a past NPF Discovery Grant recipient. According to the study findings, some of these genetic risk factors may not apply to all ethnicities.

“There are about 10 genes that seem to have an important role in Caucasian individuals in terms of predisposing them to psoriasis, but those same 10 genes did not appear to have any sort of affect in the Asian population,” said Liao. 

This difference, he said, could explain why psoriasis is about five times more common in people of European descent than in people of Asian descent.

New psoriasis risk factors identified

In addition to shedding new light on ethnic differences in psoriasis risk, the study also identified four new gene variations associated with psoriasis, according to the findings. These genes are known as TP63, RUNX1, LOC144817 and COG6. 

The parts of the body controlled by at least two of these genes play a big role in psoriasis, Liao said. 

One gene, TP63, is linked to the growth of skin cells, and another, RUNX1, affects how a kind of immune system cell known as a T cell develops, he explained. Scientists are still trying to understand how the other newly-discovered genes relate to psoriasis, he said.

International research collaboration

The study, which involved researchers from Asia, Europe and the United States, is the first large-scale effort to compare psoriasis DNA from Chinese and Caucasian people, Liao said. Researchers used DNA from the National Psoriasis Victor Henschel Biobank as well as other collections of DNA from around the world. The National Psoriasis BioBank is one of the largest collections of psoriasis DNA in the United States.

“We’re really grateful that the National Psoriasis Foundation samples were part of this study,” Liao said.

When the researchers met at an international psoriasis conference a couple of years ago, he said, they decided to see if they could learn more about the genetics of psoriasis by working together.

“We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we could get together, pool our data, and see if we can understand more about psoriasis by comparing and combining data from different countries?’” Liao recalled.

The results, he said, are a great example of what can happen when investigators from different countries collaborate.

“The more we can cooperate and work together, the more we can learn about psoriasis,” he said.

Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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