New genetic variants found to influence nearsightedness

Editor’s note:  PloS Genetics just published Amy Kiefer and Nick Eriksson’s work. Check out their paper here.

Nearsightedness, where far-away objects look blurry, is a endemic affecting about 30-40 percent of adults in the United States alone. The increasing use of computers and cellphones are likely to make the problem worse, because they train our eyes to focus on short distances.

One study in the United States highlights how quickly nearsightedness has grown. The study found that from the early 1970’s to the early 2000s, the rate of nearsightedness in the population skyrocketed from 25 percent 42 percent.

While it’s clear genetics plays an important role in nearsightedness, until this month relatively little was known about which genes are involved. Two large studies, one by researchers at 23andMe, are shedding light some light on the subject.  Led by Amy Kiefer and Nick Eriksson,  23andMe researchers analyzed genetic data and survey responses from more than 45,000 23andMe customers who consented to research. The researchers identified 22 genetic associations for nearsightedness in people with European ancestry, and  confirmed about half of these associations using data from a separate group of customers.

Adding even more support for these findings, many of the associations identified by the 23andMe research were confirmed by another large, independent nearsightedness study. One of the associations confirmed by this second study was near the gene LAMA2. LAMA2 encodes a protein important for the development of different eye structures.

Among the genetic variants found by 23andMe researchers that are associated with nearsightedness, is a variant that actually lowers the risk. About 24 percent of people with European ancestry have this variant. The other study also independently found that genetic variation near the LAMA2 gene was associated with nearsightedness.

You can find out more on our nearsightedness findings in our paper recently published in PLoS Genetics.