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Genetic Underpinnings of Motion Sickness

23andMe, Inc., a leading personal genetics company, has announced the publication of the first-ever genome-wide association study of motion sickness. Published online on February 17, 2015 in the prestigious Human Molecular Genetics journal, this study is the first to identify genetic variants associated with motion sickness, a condition that affects roughly one in three people around the world. The title of this report is “Genetic Variants Associated with Motion Sickness Point to Roles for Inner Ear Development, Neurological Processes, and Glucose Homeostasis.” Motion sickness has been shown to have high heritability, meaning genetics accounts for a large part of why some people are more prone to motion sickness than others. Estimates indicate that up to 70 percent of the variation in risk for motion sickness is due to genetics. "Until now there's been a poor understanding of the genetics of motion sickness, despite it being a fairly common condition," said 23andMe scientist Dr. Bethann Hromatka, lead author of the study. "With the help of 23andMe customers, we've been able to uncover some of the underlying genetics of this condition. These findings could help provide clues about the causes of motion sickness and other related conditions, and how to treat them, which is very exciting." The new study, which involved the consented participation of more than 80,000 23andMe customers, found 35 genetic factors associated with motion sickness at a genome-wide significant level. Many of these factors, referred to as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), are in or near genes involved in balance, and in eye, ear, and cranial development (e.g., PVRL3, TSHZ1, MUTED, HOXB3, HOXD3 genes). Other SNPs may affect motion sickness through nearby genes with roles in the nervous system, glucose homeostasis, or hypoxia. The study shows that several of these SNPs display sex-specific effects, with up to three times stronger effects seen in women. The work also confirmed previously known links with other conditions, finding that people with motion sickness are more likely to have experienced migraines, vertigo, and morning sickness, as well as postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV). The study also found new phenotypic associations between motion sickness and altitude sickness as well as many gastrointestinal conditions. Two of these related conditions (PONV and migraines) were found to share underlying genetic factors with motion sickness. The results point to the importance of the nervous system in motion sickness and suggest a role for glucose levels in motion-induced nausea and vomiting, a finding that may provide insight into other nausea-related conditions like PONV. Because the study also identified associations between motion sickness and lifestyle--for instance, there is an association between being a poor sleeper and having a propensity for motion sicknes--the findings could also help researchers identify risk factors for the condition and future treatments.

[Press release] [Human Molecular Genetics article] [Time magazine article] [The Atlantic article] [Seattle pi article] [Genome Web article] [International Business Times article]