The seasons appear to influence when certain genes are active, with those associated with inflammation being more active in the winter, according to new research released Tuesday.
A study involving more than 16,000 people found that the activity of about 4,000 of those genes appears to be affected by the season, researchers reported in the journal Nature Communications. The findings could help explain why certain diseases are more likely than others to strike for the first time during certain seasons, the researchers say.
"Certain chronic diseases are very seasonal — like seasonal affective disorder or cardiovascular disease or type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis," says John Todd, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge who led the research. "But people have been wondering for decades what the explanation for that is."
Todd and his colleagues decided to try to find out. They analyzed the genes in cells from more than 16,000 people in five countries, including the United States and European countries in the Northern Hemisphere, and Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. And they spotted the same trend — in both hemispheres, and among men as well as women.
"It's one of those observations where ... the first time you see it, you go, 'Wow, somebody must have seen this before,' " Todd says.