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Sarin Exposure, Genotypes, and Gulf War Syndrome

Sarin gas is the likely culprit behind Gulf War Syndrome, with genetic variants making some soldiers more susceptible to its effects, BBC News reported last week.

The mysterious syndrome, which has affected tens of thousands of soldiers, is marked by a range of symptoms, from fatigue and concentration issues to digestive problems and joint pain. The BBC adds that veterans have struggled to have the condition recognized.

In a new study appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center assembled a cohort of 1,016 Gulf War veterans, half of whom had Gulf War Syndrome and half of whom did not. Through a survey, they found that veterans with Gulf War Syndrome were more likely to have heard a nerve agent alarm sound while serving — as the BBC notes, Coalition forces bombed Iraqi chemical weapon stashes during the war.

The researchers also analyzed blood samples from veterans to find that affected individuals were also more likely to have the PON1 Q192R genotype, which affects people's ability to hydrolyze organophosphates. Veterans who heard both the alarms and had an RR genotype were nearly nine times more likely to develop Gulf War Syndrome.

Marc Weisskopf from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, who coauthored an accompanying editorial, tells HealthDay News that the analysis offers a "strong argument" for sarin gas being the main cause of Gulf War Syndrome.

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