T cell composition and polygenic multiple sclerosis risk: A population-based study in children

Casper L. de Mol, Kirsten I.M. Looman, Marvin M. van Luijn, Karim L. Kreft, Philip R. Jansen, Menno C. van Zelm, Joost J.F.M. Smolders, Tonya J.H. White, Henriette A. Moll, Rinze F. Neuteboom*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and purpose: Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) have altered T cell function and composition. Common genetic risk variants for MS affect proteins that function in the immune system. It is currently unclear to what extent T cell composition is affected by genetic risk factors for MS, and how this may precede a possible disease onset. Here, we aim to assess whether an MS polygenic risk score (PRS) is associated with an altered T cell composition in a large cohort of children from the general population. Methods: We included genotyped participants from the population-based Generation R study in whom immunophenotyping of blood T cells was performed at the age of 6 years. Analyses of variance were used to determine the impact of MS-PRSs on total T cell numbers (n = 1261), CD4+ and CD8+ lineages, and subsets therein (n= 675). In addition, T-cell-specific PRSs were constructed based on functional pathway data. Results: The MS-PRS negatively correlated with CD8+ T cell frequencies (p = 2.92 × 10−3), which resulted in a positive association with CD4+/CD8+ T cell ratios (p = 8.27 × 10−9). These associations were mainly driven by two of 195 genome-wide significant MS risk variants: the main genetic risk variant for MS, HLA-DRB1*15:01 and an HLA-B risk variant. We observed no significant associations for the T-cell-specific PRSs. Conclusions: Our results suggest that MS-associated genetic variants affect T cell composition during childhood in the general population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3731-3741
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Neurology
Issue number11
Early online date12 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was sponsored by the Dutch MS Research Foundation. The Generation R study is made possible by continuous support from the Erasmus University Medical Center, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, and the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. European Journal of Neurology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Academy of Neurology.


  • Epstein–Barr virus infections
  • genetic association studies
  • multiple sclerosis
  • T lymphocytes
  • vitamin D


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