More evidence links Epstein-Barr virus to multiple sclerosis, the study says

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There is more evidence that it is one of the most common in the world viruses it can put some people on the path of development multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease that occurs when cells in the immune system accidentally attack the protective coating on nerve fibers and gradually erode them.

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Epstein-Barr virus has long been suspected of playing a role in the development of MS. This is a link that is difficult to prove because almost everyone becomes infected with Epstein-Barr, usually as children or young adults – but only a small proportion develop MS.

Thursday Harvard researchers reported one of the largest studies still supporting Epstein-Barr theory.

They followed blood samples stored in more than 10 million people US military and found that the risk of MS after Epstein-Barr infection increased 32-fold.

The military conducts regular blood tests for its members, and researchers checked samples stored from 1993 to 2013 and hunted for signaling antibodies. viral infection.

Only 5.3% of recruits showed no signs of Epstein-Barr when they joined the military. The researchers compared 801 cases of MS that were later diagnosed over a 20-year period with 1,566 members of the services who had never had MS.

Only one MS patient had no evidence of Epstein-Barr virus prior to diagnosis. And despite an intensive search, researchers found no evidence that other viral infections played a role.

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The findings “strongly suggest” that Epstein-Barr infection is “the cause and not the consequence of MS,” the study’s author, Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and colleagues reported in the journal Science.

This is clearly not the only factor, given that about 90% of adults have antibodies that indicate they have had Epstein-Barr – while nearly 1 million people in the U.S. live with MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The virus appears to be the “initial trigger,” Dr. William H. Robinson and Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University wrote in an editorial accompanying Thursday’s study. However, they noted the need to “ignite additional fuses” such as genes that can make people more vulnerable.

Epstein-Barr is best known for causing “mono” or infectious mononucleosis, in adolescents and young adults, but often occurs without symptoms. The virus, which remains inactive in the body after initial infection, is also associated with the later development of certain autoimmune diseases and rare cancers.

It is not clear why. Among the options is what is called “molecular mimicry,” which means that viral proteins can look so similar to certain nervous system proteins that they cause a false immune attack.

Nonetheless, the new study is “the strongest evidence to date that Epstein-Barr contributes to the cause of MS,” said Mark Allegretta, vice president of research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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And that, he added, “opens the door to the eventual prevention of MS by preventing Epstein-Barr infection.”

Epstein-Barr development attempts are underway vaccines including a small study just launched by Moderna Inc., best known for its COVID-19 vaccine.

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