Harvard researchers: Multiple sclerosis is a late sequel to a viral infection


January 14, 2022 – 10:30 am Clock

The Epstein-Barr herpes virus has long been suspected of being one of the main triggers for the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis. Now a new study from the USA provides more solid evidence for this research thesis. The scientific community is enthusiastic, multiple sclerosis experts from Germany describe the study as a milestone. However, it is still unclear how the disease can be combated optimally.

Epstein-Barr virus has long been suspected

For some time now, researchers around the world have been targeting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which belongs to the herpes virus family, as a possible cause of multiple sclerosis. Now a team of scientists around the epidemiologist Alberto Ascherio from Harvard University has succeeded in providing evidence.

They checked the causative role of the pathogen using data from more than 10 million young employees of the US armed forces who had been regularly screened for HIV between 1993 and 2013. MS was found in 955 participants. In the archived blood samples of those affected, the researchers searched for antibodies against EBV and other viruses to determine which pathogens they had come into contact with before the onset of MS. The study results were published in “Science” magazine.

The pathogen is a cause of the disease

All but one patient had had EBV infection because they had antibodies to them in their blood. The authors now assume that infection with the pathogen increases the risk for Autoimmunerkrankung MS increased 32-fold. It also strongly suggests that the pathogen is a cause of the disease – and not just an accompanying phenomenon, as was previously assumed in some cases. This observation is also supported by the fact that the blood samples were also searched for antibodies against other viruses – for example the cytomegalovirus, which is also a herpes virus and is also transmitted through saliva. And the researchers found no connection whatsoever.

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EBV vaccination against multiple sclerosis

A strategy to protect against multiple sclerosis must therefore target the Epstein-Barr virus directly, for example through vaccinations, recommends the Harvard team. “The extremely low risk of MS in EBV-negative individuals suggests that the vast majority of cases of MS are caused by EBV and could potentially be prevented with appropriate vaccination,” they write. In addition, a vaccination can also protect against cancers associated with EBV, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Burkitt’s lymphoma. Corona vaccine pioneer Biontech is currently working on an mRNA vaccine against the pathogen.

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Experts: “Study is a milestone”

And that should also protect for a lifetime, according to experts. “The later in life a person becomes infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, the higher the risk of Pfeiffer’s glandular fever,” says Klemens Ruprecht, head of the multiple sclerosis outpatient clinic on the Mitte campus of the Berlin Charité, opposite ntv.de. Nevertheless, the expert is certain: “This work is the last piece of the puzzle, the results practically leave no doubt as to a causal relationship.” Ralf Gold, director of the neurological clinic at the St. Josef Hospital of the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) and chairman of the medical advisory board of the German Multiple Sclerosis Society (DMSG) judges accordingly: “The study is a milestone, the results are not available past.”

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150,000 people affected in Germany

Around 2.8 million people worldwide have MS, in Germany around 150,000 people. MS affects young people in particular: MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. But there are also children and adolescents who fall ill, but initial diagnoses after the age of 60 are rather rare. About twice to three times as many women develop relapsing MS, while both men and women get the same disease with the other types of MS. The course and symptoms differ from patient to patient. MS is neither fatal nor contagious. (ija)

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Harvard researchers: Multiple sclerosis is a late sequel to a viral infection