Researchers have discovered that a genetic variant may make some people more susceptible to gout than others.
The finding could aid the development of drugs to prevent or treat gout.
Genetic analysis of more than 12,000 people identified a gene linked to uric acid levels in the blood.
Gout, the most common inflammatory arthritis in adult males, is caused by high blood levels of uric acid, which provoke an inflammatory reaction in joint tissues, resulting in burning pain, swelling and stiffness in the affected joint.
Work by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Genetics Unit together with the University of Edinburgh and Croatian scientists shows that a known sugar transporter, called SLC2A9, is mainly responsible for the transport of uric acid within the body.
Variations in the gene that codes for this transporter cause some people to have higher levels of uric acid in their blood than others.
Further work with researchers in Germany helped to show that the gene is associated with kidney function, in particular the capacity to remove uric acid from the body through the urine.
Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) last month found that consuming fizzy drinks increased the risk of gout. The genetics research, however, suggests why some develop the illness and others do not.
Harry Campbell, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and one of the report authors, said: "Some people will have higher or lower risk of gout depending on which form of the gene they inherited. This discovery may allow better diagnostic tools for gout to be developed."
The findings are published in the journal Nature Genetics.