Cognitive Impact of Pediatric MS Varies by Race

December 16, 2010

New research indicates that multiple sclerosis may affect some cognitive functions more severely in African American children.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects some cognitive functions more significantly in black children than white children, according to research published in Neurology.

In the study, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham determined that the severity of cognitive difficulties in pediatric MS may vary between black and white children. These results offer insights that could help individualize treatments for children suffering from the disease.

"We don't yet understand the biological reasons, but the bottom line is treatment options must be re-evaluated and be aggressive enough, especially with black patients, to prolong quality of life for as long as possible," said Kelly Ross, a psychology doctoral degree candidate in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study, in a statement.

Ross and colleagues reviewed university-collected data on the cognitive assessments of 42 children with MS, 20 black and 22 white, who were treated from April 2006 to September 2009 at the UAB Center for Pediatric Onset Demyelinating Disorders, which operates at the Children's Hospital of Alabama. The objective was to determine domain-specific neurocognitive differences between black patients and white patients with pediatric-onset MS.

"The UAB CPODD clinic is the only one of the six Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence in the country that, based on its location, serves a considerable black population; this gave us access to unique comparative data," Ross said.

Controlling for variables like socioeconomic status and education level, the researchers found that black MS patients may be at higher risk than whites for adverse cognitive impacts in the areas of language and complex attention, such as the ability to juggle multiple tasks at once.

The researchers concluded that longitudinal characterization of cognitive pathology is critical for the development of effective intervention strategies to prolong cognitive functioning in POMS cohorts.

"The differential effects of the disease in children based on their race is a trend very similar to research in adults in which MS more severely affects some functions in black patients," said Jayne Ness, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics in the UAB School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors.

"Whether it is treatment of MS itself, adjunctive therapies or working with school systems to see that a proper special-education curriculum is in place, the results of this research could reshape the way we help pediatric MS patients and their families manage the disease," said Joe Ackerson, PhD, a former UAB faculty member and another co-author of the study.

To access the Neurology study, click here.