Synesthesia Found 3 Times More Common Among Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

Image of brain and colorful waves
Presenting at CMSC 2021, researchers examined the relationship between synesthesia and multiple sclerosis.
The following article is part of conference coverage from the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC), held October 25-28 2021, in Orlando, Florida. Neurology Advisor’s staff will be reporting breaking news associated with research conducted by leading experts in neurology. Check back for the latest news from the 2021 CMSC Annual Meeting.

Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are 3-times more likely to report synesthesia than the general population, according to survey findings presented at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) held October 25-28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida.

Synesthesia is a neurologic condition of unknown etiology which causes 1 sensory domain to stimulate another, unrelated domain. MS and synesthesia may share common features, such as immune system dysfunction or brain structural abnormalities, and could be a related with MS presentation or disease progression.

To assess whether there may be commonalities between the 2 conditions, researchers from Montclair State University and the Kessler Foundation recruited self-reported individuals with MS via social media between 2019 and 2020. Participants were surveyed about demographics, features of MS, and symptoms of synesthesia.

A total of 135 individuals with relapsing-remitting MS and 9 with primary progressive MS responded to the survey.

Synesthesia was reported by 14 (9.72%), of whom most (64.29%) said these symptoms onset during childhood or before they could remember. Both men (9.09%) and women (9.84%) reported synesthesia at a similar rate. There did not appear to be an imbalance between relapsing-remitting MS (92.86%) or primary progressive MS (7.14%) individuals who reported synesthesia compared with the entire population makeup (93.75% and 6.25%, respectively).

This study may have been limited by recruiting individuals with self-reported disease and by the low number of individuals with primary progressive disease who responded to the advertisements.

Synesthesia is believed to occur among 2%-4% of the general population. At a rate of nearly 10%, synesthesia appears to occur at a rate 3-times higher among the MS population. There did not appear to be a gender or etiology bias for synesthesia among study participants.

These data indicated that the link between synesthesia and MS warrants “further work examining the relationship between synesthesia and MS, with a larger sample” in order to better understand the biological mechanism and whether symptoms of synesthesia may be a risk factor for MS, the researchers concluded.

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Villafana M, Wylie GR, Propper RE. Synesthesia May Be Prevalent in Multiple Sclerosis. Presented at: CMSC 2021 Annual Meeting; October 25-28, 2021; Orlando, Florida. Abstract NNN07.