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Researchers Co-Funded by the Society Pinpoint Genetic Differences Between African-Americans and Northern Europeans with MS

June 28, 2013

A nationwide team of researchers has conducted the largest genetic study of people with MS of non-European ancestry, screening for known gene variants in more than 1,000 African Americans with MS, and showing significant differences from white Americans. These differences may help explain differences in disease incidence and activity that are observed between African-Americans and white Americans. Noriko Isobe, MD, PhD, Jorge R. Oksenberg, PhD (University of California, San Francisco) and colleagues from neurology and genetics departments nationwide report their findings in Neurology (Published online before print June 14, 2013). The authors were funded by the National MS Society and the National Institutes of Health.

Background: Genes are known to play a role in who is susceptible to developing multiple sclerosis, and may also influence the course of the disease. Identifying the exact location of MS genes could help determine who is at risk for developing the disease, and may provide clues to its cause, prevention and better treatment. Research shows that MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos; susceptibility rates vary among these groups, with recent findings suggesting that African American women have a higher than previously reported risk of developing MS. Focusing on ethnic groups with varying levels of susceptibility to MS, and searching for what is common and what is different in their genes may help pinpoint regions that contain MS genes.

The Study: Investigators obtained DNA samples from 1,162 African-Americans with MS and 2,092 African-Americans without MS, as well as 577 white Americans with MS and 461 white Americans without MS. The team looked for similarities and differences in 128 gene variants that had been associated with MS. They confirmed associations of key immune-response genes (HLA) with MS among African Americans. However, among 73 non-HLA genes that were associated with MS among white Americans, only 8 were associated with MS among African Americans.

Comment: These findings portray significant differences in MS genes between African American and white Americans. This lends further information to efforts to understand differences in MS itself as it is experienced by these two ethnic groups – read more here. Additional studies are underway to define all of the genes that help confer susceptibility to MS, which should provide significant clues to understanding how MS is triggered, how it may be better treated, and how it may be prevented.

Connect with others: Visit community groups.

Read more about the Society’s African American Advisory Council.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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