Skip to navigation Skip to content



Researchers Find Hint that a Gene Variation May Be Linked to Secondary Progressive MS in Black People

August 12, 2021

Researchers funded in part by the National MS Society report that – among nearly 2,000 samples from Black and white people with and without MS – a gene variation called STK11 was more common in Black people with MS than in whites. This was found more strongly in Black people with secondary progressive MS, a form of the disease with worsening disability that follows an initial relapsing-remitting course. Further study is needed to show if this association contributes to the increased severity of MS in Black people. The cause of MS is not known, but several risk factors can make an individual more susceptible to getting MS, including more than 200 common gene variations that contribute to risk. Research is ongoing to better understand genetic risk and other factors that contribute to the risk of MS and its course and severity.
  • A growing body of research suggests that MS is more severe in Black people in terms of more relapses, greater disability, and tending to require mobility assistance earlier in the disease course than whites.
  • For this study, researchers analyzed nearly 2,000 DNA samples from Black and white people with and without MS. The samples were obtained from an MS study at Veterans Affairs medical centers, the Accelerated Cure Project for MS Repository, and the Society-supported University of California at San Francisco MS Genetics Project.
  • The results show that a gene variation known as STK11 was more common in Black people than in white people, and that this difference was significant in Black people with secondary progressive MS. In this small subgroup, STK11 was associated with an older age of symptom onset and diagnosis.
  • The study warrants further study in larger groups of people, to determine whether this genetic variation is associated with increased MS disease activity or severity in Black people.
Being Black and living with MS brings unique challenges and experiences. Learn More
Read more about the combination of factors that may trigger MS
“Liver kinase B1 rs9282860 polymorphism and risk for multiple sclerosis in White and Black Americans” by Drs. Anne I Boullerne, Douglas L Feinstein (University of Illinois, Chicago) and colleagues, is published in MS and Related Disorders (published August 2, 2021).

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.


© 2023 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.