Study supports thesis – A virus has been recognized as the cause of multiple sclerosis
– A virus has been recognized to cause multiple sclerosis
One study suggests that Epstein-Barr virus infection appears to be the leading cause of multiple sclerosis. It may be possible to prevent the nervous disease with a vaccination.
A study published in the journal Science confirms that infection with the Epstein-Barr virus appears to be the main cause of multiple sclerosis. A vaccination or antiviral therapy could possibly prevent the nervous disease.
Almost everyone will be infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in their lifetime. Most of the time the infection goes unnoticed, and some get glandular fever. But you can’t get rid of the virus: It slumbers in certain cells of the immune system – and could be a cause of the nervous disease multiple sclerosis (MS), as researchers have suspected for some time.
A comprehensive study under the direction of Alberto Ascherio, professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, now corroborates this thesis. The team, which includes Jens Kuhle from the University of Basel, analyzed blood samples from more than ten million US military personnel. Their blood was routinely tested for HIV for twenty years.
MS biomarkers detected
The study included 801 people who had multiple sclerosis while on the job. 35 of those affected were still EBV-negative when the blood was drawn for the first time. However, 34 of them became infected with the virus before the onset of multiple sclerosis. Thus, all but one person were EBV positive at the time of onset of MS disease.
The data also showed that the concentration of so-called “light neurofilaments” increased after the virus infection. These filaments are considered to be MS biomarkers that reflect damage to nerve cells. This suggests that the disease process did not actually start until the onset of the infection, said neuroimmunologist Roland Martin from the University Hospital Zurich, who was not involved in the study, the Science Media Center.
Genes also play an important role
In addition, the researchers found no connection between MS disease and infection with the cytomegalovirus, which is also very common, and MS disease. “The results cannot be explained by any known risk factor and suggest that EBV is the main cause of MS,” the authors conclude.
For the Zurich physician Martin, however, this conclusion goes a little too far: On the one hand, there are a large number of genes that could each increase the risk of MS. On the other hand, environmental factors also played an important role.
These included low levels of vitamin D, smoking, shift work and certain intestinal bacteria. “In my opinion, the study cannot conclusively clarify whether the EBV is the most important environmental factor or one of several”, says Martin.
The US researchers William Robinson and Lawrence Steinman from Stanford University also suspect in an article accompanying the study that an EBV infection is probably necessary, but not sufficient, to trigger the development of MS: “EBV infection is the first pathogenic Step in MS, but more fuses have to be detonated for full pathophysiology, ”they write.
Even extermination possible?
An effective weapon against MS could be vaccination against the EB virus, as long as it is given before infection. Such vaccines are currently being developed, said the Basel professor Jens Kuhle in a statement from his university and added: “You might then also be able to prevent MS with a vaccination.”
According to him, antiviral therapies could also be a promising alternative. Because there is at least the possibility “that EBV not only plays a role as a trigger, but also in the triggering of inflammatory attacks”.
The US researchers Robinson and Steinman also discuss various options for therapies in their article and even dare to say: “Now that the first trigger for MS has been identified, MS could perhaps be eradicated.”