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Researchers Pinpoint Two Important Gene Variants in African Americans with MS

October 19, 2020

Researchers have found that two genetic variants involved in regulating immune responses may explain the increased risk of multiple sclerosis in African Americans who have European ancestors. The authors comment that it is likely that these genes combine with other genetic and environmental factors to explain what is often a worse clinical experience of MS in African Americans. The study was funded by the National MS Society and others.
  • Genes are known to play a role in determining who is susceptible to developing MS, and may also influence the course of the disease. Focusing on ethnic groups with varying susceptibility to MS and searching for what is common and what is different in their genes may help pinpoint genes that contribute to MS risk and clues to the cause of this disease.
  • MS can be especially active in African Americans. African Americans are more likely to experience more relapses, greater disability, and to require mobility assistance earlier in the disease course than Caucasians.
  • The team used data from genome-wide studies completed by the International MS Genetics Consortium (IMSGC). They discovered the region of the genome containing the two variants in data from a landmark IMSGC study of African Americans with MS in 2005. Then, to characterize the variants, they focused on African Americans with MS in a 2007 study who showed strong signals in that area of the genome.
  • Large numbers of participants are needed to accelerate this research. If you wish to participate, please contact the University of California at San Francisco MS Genetics Research Laboratory here.
  • Being Black and living with MS brings unique challenges and experiences. The National MS Society’s Black MS Experience Summit – which took place in September 2020 – offered an opportunity to connect with others who understand the distinct experience of life with MS as a Black person. View a wrap up and additional resources. 
“Two genetic variants explain the association of European ancestry with multiple sclerosis risk in African-Americans” is published by Drs. Nathan Nakatsuka and David Reich (Harvard Medical School) and colleagues in the open-access journal Scientific Reports (2020;10:16902).

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.

About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

The National MS Society, founded in 1946, is the global leader of a growing movement dedicated to creating a world free of MS. The Society funds cutting-edge research for a cure, drives change through advocacy and provides programs and services to help people affected by MS live their best lives. Connect to learn more and get involved:, Facebook, X, formerly known as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or 1-800-344-4867.


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