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Weill Cornell Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center

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Immune Disease Activity in MS may differ according to Ethnicity

People with MS self-identifying with the Black African diaspora, and/or with Latin American ethnicity are on average more likely to experience a severe MS disease course. This trend is supported by several independent studies conducted over the past two decades.


Collectively, these studies show that clinical disability and MRI measures; including, lesion number, lesion volume, and tissue atrophy, tend to be significantly pronounced among study participants with MS self-reporting as African American or Hispanic/Latin American compared to Caucasian counterparts. What accounts for this clinical disparity is not yet understood, but is likely a combination of both social and biological factors.


We are pleased to share our recently published work, which contributes to better understanding biological inflammatory mediators of this disparity. Activated inflammatory B cells such as plasmablasts (inflammatory short-lived antibody-secreting cells that activated B cells may turn into) are thought to play a very important role in driving MS disease activity. We therefore quantified the amount of plasmablasts in the blood of consenting study participants self-reporting (via study survey) with various ethnicity categories.


Briefly, we found that individuals with MS self-identifying with ‘Black African’ and/or ‘Latin American’ ethnicity possessed significantly greater numbers plasmablasts circulating in their blood compared to individuals with MS that self-identified with ‘Caucasian/European’ ethnicity. In stark contrast to this finding, the ethnicity-associated difference in plasmablasts was virtually absent among participants who did not have an MS diagnosis. Our work thus points to as-of-yet undetermined ethnicity-associated differences in MS disease-driving biology.


As we and others continue to investigate the relationship between ethnicity, and inflammatory biology in MS, we hope our findings will encourage inclusivity among future investigation, ultimately facilitating our journey towards stopping MS disease activity. This is of particular importance for Phase III MS clinical trials which often feature appallingly low (~3%) patient representation from the Black African diaspora (also detailed in our study).


If you are interested in participating in future research related to the topic of ethnicity and inflammation in MS, please contact our MS Center Research Office at 646 962 5736


Click to see our full study report:

By Kiel Telesford, PhD MS

Weill Cornell Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center 1305 York Ave., Second Floor New York, NY 10021