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Study Finds Differences Between African Americans and Caucasians in How MS Injures the Brain and Spinal Cord

August 27, 2020

Researchers report greater tissue loss in particular areas of the brain and spinal cord in a small, three-year MRI  study comparing MS-related changes in African Americans and Caucasian Americans. This study, although small, adds to the body of work exploring why Black people may experience a more severe MS course than white people. It also underscores why it’s important for  African Americans with MS to participate in clinical trials of therapies that might protect or repair brain and spinal cord tissues, to detect whether there are differences in treatment response between people of difference races and ethnicities.
  • 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.
  • Investigators used novel 3-D imaging techniques to examine 10 African Americans with relapsing-remitting MS, 20 Caucasian Americans with relapsing-remitting MS, and 5 controls without MS. Participants with MS had minimal disability and stable disease at the start of the study.
  • The lower part of the brain and upper part of the spinal cord were examined at two time points, three years apart. At the first time point, there was no difference in  tissue volume between groups. Three years later, there were greater reductions in  tissue volume in the African American group in specific areas (ventral and dorsal compartments). These changes were not associated with increased disease activity on standard imaging scans or progression of disability.  However these structural changes may place African Americans at greater risk for earlier and more rapid progression of disability compared to whites.
  • Early and ongoing treatment with a disease-modifying therapy is currently the best way to reduce MS disease activity and future deterioration. Read more
  • Being Black and living with MS brings unique challenges and experiences. Join a virtual, free event, The Black MS Experience Summit, an opportunity to connect with others who understand the distinct experience of life with MS as a Black person.
African Americans experience disproportionate neurodegenerative changes in the medulla and upper cervical spinal cord in early multiple sclerosis,” by Tatum Moog, Darin Okuda, MD (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center) and colleagues, was published in MS and Related Disorders (2020 Jul 28;45:102429).

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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