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Japanese and American researchers have identified a gene associated with Kawasaki disease, which begins with a high fever and skin rashes and can lead to coronary aneurysms if untreated, according to a report posted Monday in the online edition of the U.S. science journal Nature Genetics.

The gene discovered by members of research organizations including Riken and the University of California is believed to be the first that has the potential to shed light on how the disease occurs and might help to find ways to treat or prevent it, according to the report.

The exact cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown, but theories link it to an overreaction of the immune system.

“We identified one of the several genetic factors that are believed to cause the disease and are of the view that our findings mark the first step toward developing treatment for the disease,” said Yoshihiro Onouchi, a senior Riken researcher.

The team examined the genes of 640 Kawasaki disease sufferers and 1,000 people who do not have the disease.

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