Retinal damage and vision loss in African American multiple sclerosis patients

Ann Neurol. 2015 Feb;77(2):228-36. doi: 10.1002/ana.24308. Epub 2015 Jan 13.


Objective: To determine whether African American (AA) multiple sclerosis (MS) patients exhibit more retinal damage and visual impairment compared to Caucasian American (CA) MS patients.

Methods: A total of 687 MS patients (81 AAs) and 110 healthy control (HC) subjects (14 AAs) were recruited at 3 academic hospitals between 2008 and 2012. Using mixed effects regression models, we compared high- and low-contrast visual acuity (HCVA and LCVA) and high-definition spectral domain optical coherence tomography measures of retinal architecture between MS patients of self-identified AA and CA ancestry.

Results: In HCs, baseline peripapillary retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) thickness was 6.1µm greater in AAs (p = 0.047), whereas ganglion cell/inner plexiform layer (GCIP) thickness did not differ by race. In MS patients, baseline RNFL did not differ by race, and GCIP was 3.98µm thinner in AAs (p = 0.004). AAs had faster RNFL and GCIP thinning rates compared to CAs (p = 0.004 and p = 0.046, respectively). AA MS patients had lower baseline HCVA (p = 0.02) and worse LCVA per year of disease duration (p = 0.039). Among patients with an acute optic neuritis (AON) history, AAs had greater loss of HCVA than CA patients (p = 0.012).

Interpretation: This multicenter investigation provides objective evidence that AA MS patients exhibit accelerated retinal damage compared to CA MS patients. Self-identified AA ancestry is associated with worse MS-related visual disability, particularly in the context of an AON history, suggesting a more aggressive inflammatory disease course among AA MS patients or a subpopulation therein.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / ethnology*
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Multiple Sclerosis / ethnology*
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Vision, Low / diagnosis
  • Vision, Low / ethnology*
  • Whites / ethnology*
  • Young Adult