Skip to navigation Skip to content



Black People May Respond Differently Than Whites to B-Cell Therapy for MS, Says Study Featured at Upcoming AAN Meeting

April 14, 2021

Black people taking B-cell therapy (such as rituximab or ocrelizumab - Ocrevus) to treat MS or a related disorder, neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), tended to differ from whites in terms of how quickly their depleted immune B cells recovered, according to researchers reporting results at next week’s American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Meeting. More research is needed to determine whether this means that Black people with MS may experience increased disease activity, such as a relapse or new MRI-detected brain lesions, before their next infusion is scheduled.
In-depth information about this study will not be available until the investigators present their findings during the meeting and publish their results in a medical journal. The National MS Society will be providing reports summarizing results from this and other studies to be presented.
  • Research suggests that MS can be more severe in Black Americans in terms of more relapses, greater disability, and tending to require mobility assistance earlier in the disease course than whites.
  • A team at New York University looked back on medical records to explore whether differences existed in response to therapies that deplete immune cells known as “B cells” that promote inflammation in MS. They analyzed blood samples taken from people who had been treated with rituximab or Ocrevus, looking at how quickly B cells reappeared in the months following their twice-yearly infusion.
  • The study involved medical records of 168 people, of whom 134 had MS and 32 had NMOSD; 61 people of 168 identified as Black and 60 identified as white.
  • There were no apparent differences in B cell levels four and six months after treatment. Differences emerged between 6 to 12 months after treatment, when among those with blood test results, 16 of 21 Blacks (76.2%) had B cells reappear in the blood, compared to 4 of 12 whites (33.3%).
  • Further study is necessary to determine if this preliminary finding is confirmed in larger numbers of people, and whether this difference in immune response is associated with differences in disease activity following treatment.
  • “African American patients with MS/NMOSD have more rapid B-cell repopulation than white patients following infusion of anti-CD20 B-cell depleting therapy” is being presented by Lucia Saidenberg, llya Kister, MD, and colleagues (New York University at the AAN on Sunday, April 18.  View the AAN Press Release
  • Browse the AAN Abstracts here
  • Being Black and living with MS brings unique challenges and experiences. Learn More

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.


© 2022 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.