Study Reveals a Key Difference Between People of Color with Multiple Sclerosis and Whites

According to a story from Multiple Sclerosis News Today, a recent study has revealed a never-before-seen difference in multiple sclerosis patients of different racial backgrounds. The research found that people of Latinx or African-American ancestry that had the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis had a greater concentration of cells called plasmablasts when compared to white patients. Plasmablasts are associated with inflammatory activity and the production of antibodies.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease which is characterized by damage to the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating, protective covering that surrounds nerve cells and allows them to communicate effectively. Although a precise cause has not been determined, multiple sclerosis is considered an autoimmune disease, in which a certain trigger, such as an infection, may cause the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. Smoking and certain genetic variants are also considered risk factors for the disease. Symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, blindness in one eye, numbness, abnormal sensations, pain, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, difficulty speaking and swallowing, mood instability, depression, loss of coordination, and fatigue. There are a number of treatments available for the disease, but no cure. Life expectancy for patients is slightly reduced. To learn more about multiple sclerosis, click here.

Racial Differences in Multiple Sclerosis

Some prior research on multiple sclerosis has found that the disease can actually progress faster in people of color. Symptoms such as retinal degeneration and brain atrophy appear more quickly in patients of Latinx or African-American background. In addition, these patients display a higher degree of inflammation. Despite evidence of differences, many studies and drug trials routinely fail to represent patients of different races.

The study looked at a sample of 74 multiple sclerosis patients, including 27 African-American and Latinx patients and 27 whites. Patients from this portion were all being treated with the drug natalizumab. There were also 20 patients (12 people of color and eight whites) that were not undergoing any disease modifying treatment. They were compared to a control of 24 healthy volunteers.

The study found that people of color showed greater evidence of disease activity including the increased number of plasmablasts that expressed the surface protein CD86. The findings look like a possible explanation for why these patients have more severe disease in general when compared to whites.

Check out the original study, in the scientific journal Neurology, Neuroimmunology, and Neuroinflammation, here.

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