NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The
abnormal immune response that leads to multiple sclerosis, or MS, is
stronger in African Americans than in whites with the disease, new
research indicates. This may partly explain why blacks often experience
MS develops when myelin, the insulating tissue around neurons in the
brain, is attacked by the body's own immune system. "The findings show
that ethnic differences in multiple sclerosis extend to the immune
response system, which plays a central role in multiple sclerosis," Dr.
John R. Rinker, from Washington University School of Medicine in St.
Louis, said in a statement.
The results, which appear in the medical journal Neurology, stem
from a comparison of the immune responses seen in 66 African Americans
with multiple sclerosis and in 132 whites with the disease.
The researchers found that levels of antibodies responsible for
anti-myelin activity in the cerebrospinal fluid are higher in blacks
While this finding might help explain some of the racial differences
seen with multiple sclerosis, it remains unclear why African Americans
typically require help with walking earlier in the course of the
Consistent with previous reports, the African American patients in
the current study required assistance with walking sooner than did
their white counterparts. However, the cerebrospinal antibody level was
not related to earlier ambulatory assistance.
"It remains possible that genes are unevenly distributed between
ethnic groups to account for different susceptibility to some
diseases," Rinker noted. "In multiple sclerosis, recent genetic studies
have begun to identify certain genes which may explain why African
Americans experience more disability." However, exactly what these
genes do remains unknown.
SOURCE: Neurology, July 3, 2007