Multiple sclerosis caused by Epstein-Barr virus?
Scientific studies have provided evidence that the Epstein-Barr virus causes multiple sclerosis (MS) could be. New analyzes now confirm this suspicion.
It is still unclear what causes multiple sclerosis (MS). One potential cause is the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which most people carry without causing any problems. This suspicion has now been substantiated in a study by researchers at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (WWU) in Münster. The study results were published in the journal “Journal of Experimental Medicine” released.
People with MS have previously developed antibodies against EBV
Like it in one Message of the University of Münster, a “lone perpetrator” can be ruled out as the trigger for multiple sclerosis – but science has always had another suspect in its sights in addition to genetic predisposition: the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
Infection with the virus might not only precede the development of MS—it might causative factor for the harmful processes that take place in the nervous system in MS.
A study by neurologists from the University of Münster suggests that the T cells that enter the nervous system immigrate, might originally have been lured there by the Epstein-Barr virus.
The “case” was reopened in January of this year as a retrospective study appeared, which also made Prof. Nicholas Schwab and his team sit up and take notice. Data from more than ten million members of the US military had shown that all those diagnosed with MS during the observation period had previously developed antibodies against EBV.
The characteristic of multiple sclerosis nerve damage developed only after the appearance of EBV antibodies in the serum. In addition, a parallel study provided evidence for a causal link between MS pathology and EBV antibodies.
The virus could be the advent and possibly persistence of the chronic inflammatory disease autoimmune disease MS be involved.
More diverse immune response
The focus of the new study was on receptors that can be found on T cells and that can bind to all conceivable protein structures – including those of EBV. Their analysis showed: MS patients have more different anti-EBV T cell receptor sequences in the blood as comparison persons. The cellular immune response against EBV is therefore more diverse in people with MS.
“For every 100,000 T cells, we find one additional, EBV-specific T cell in those affected. In layman’s terms, that sounds small, but it adds up tremendously when you consider the total number of unique T cells in the human body.”, explains the first author of the study, Dr. Tilman Schneider-Hohendorf. This number will be a single digit billion amount estimated.
In addition, the immune system of people affected by MS apparently continuously produces new EBV-specific T cells, which then migrate from the blood into the tissue. The research team discovered this in patients who received a drug that emigration process stops. In these people, the T-cells in question accumulated in the blood.
19 out of 20 people infected with EBV
To make sure that the MS disease – and not about genetic differences between the samples examined – to explain the unusually large number of EBV-specific T cells, the researchers looked at identical twins, of which only one sibling suffers from MS.
By a cooperation With the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the scientists came to the data on this rare constellation, in which the genetics, external influences and even the “nursery” are identical.
Also the sick ones twin siblings had more EBV-specific T cells. But why is the immune response against the Epstein-Barr virus more widespread in MS patients?
In order to pursue this question, the researchers took a closer look at the structures of the virus recognized by T cells from healthy and diseased donors. Because even in the normal population, 19 out of 20 people are infected with EBV, but not sick. The virus is well controlled in them by the immune system, so that it puts itself in permanent sleep – called latency.
On the other hand, when the virus is active in the body, it uses different building blocks of its genome than in the case of latency – this is referred to as the lytic cycle. The working group found on T-cells in the nerve water receptors against lytic EBV characteristics more often in MS patients, a sign that the virus was active.
Ideally, vaccination could help
“Our study suggests: T cellsthat migrate to the brain in MS may be searching for active EBV foci”says Prof. Heinz Wiendl, Director of the University Clinic for Neurology in Münster.
“If that is true, there should be an increased number of EBV-specific T cells not only in the cerebrospinal fluid but also in the brains of MS patients.The researchers want to answer this question in a further analysis. Should their assumption be confirmed, could recurring EBV activity in the brain may be involved in the development of new flare-ups in people with MS.
This would be a resounding “manhunt success” – because then the MS could possibly be better fought and MS relapses could be prevented.
Ideally one would vaccination reduce the risk of EBV infection. The clarification will take years – but at least the first vaccination studies are already underway. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of medical specialist literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.
- Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster: Multiple sclerosis: Analyzes from Münster confirm the suspicion of the Epstein-Barr virus, (accessed: September 7th, 2022), Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
- Schneider-Hohendorf, T., et al.: Broader Epstein-Barr virus-specific T cell receptor repertoire in patients with multiple sclerosis; in: Journal of Experimental Medicine, (published: 2022-09-01), Journal of Experimental Medicine
- Kjetil Bjornevik, et al.: Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus associated with multiple sclerosis; in: Science, (published: 01/13/2022), Science
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.