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BACKGROUND: Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) occurs worldwide in all ethnicities. Recently, population-based studies have shown that NMOSD is more common among non-White populations. There is scarce data about NMOSD prevalence in South East Asian populations. METHODS: (1) A population-based study was undertaken to estimate NMOSD prevalence in the multi-ethnic Penang Island, Malaysia, comprising Chinese, Malays, and Indians. Medical records of NMOSD patients followed up at the Penang General Hospital (the neurology referral centre in Penang Island) were reviewed. The 2015 diagnostic criteria of the International Panel for NMO Diagnosis were used for case ascertainment. (2) A review of population-based prevalence studies of NMOSD worldwide was carried out. PubMed and conference proceedings were searched for such studies. RESULTS: Of the 28 NMOSD patients, 14 were residents of Penang Island on prevalence day [13 (93%) Chinese and one (7%) Malay]. All 14 patients were females and aquaporin 4 seropositive. The prevalence of NMOSD in Penang Island was 1.99/100,000 population; according to ethnicities, the prevalence in Chinese was significantly higher than in Malays (3.31/100,000 vs 0.43/100,000, respectively, p = 0.0195). CONCLUSION: Based on our and other population-based studies, among Asians, East Asian origin populations (Chinese and Japanese) appear to have higher NMOSD prevalence than other Asian ethnic groups. Worldwide, Blacks seem to have the highest NMOSD prevalence. More studies in different geographical regions and ethnic groups will be useful to further inform about potential factors in NMOSD pathogenesis.

Original publication




Journal article


Mult Scler Relat Disord

Publication Date





20 - 24


Aquaporin 4, Asia, NMOSD, Neuromyelitis optica, Population study, Prevalence