A new analysis of data from US military recruits suggests that multiple sclerosis (MS), considered to be of unknown cause, is a complication of infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), as published by the researchers in the journal ‘Science’.
The multiple sclerosis It is a chronic demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. The underlying cause of this disease is not known, but it is believed that the Epstein-Barr virus – responsible for the mononucleosis or kissing disease— is a possible culprit. However, most people infected with this common virus do not develop multiple sclerosis, and causality of this disease in humans cannot be directly demonstrated.
Using data from more than ten million US military recruits monitored over a 20-year period, 955 of whom were diagnosed with MS during their service, the Harvard University researcher Kjetil Bjornevik and his team tested the hypothesis that MS is caused by EBV.
They found that the risk of developing MS in individuals who were negative for EBV multiplied by 32 after EBV infection. “These results cannot be explained by any known risk factors and suggest that EBV is the main cause of MS,” say the authors.
They point out that one of the most effective treatments for MS is monoclonal antibodies anti-CD20 and that targeting EBV directly could have major advantages over anti-CD20-based therapies, which have to be given by intravenous infusion and can increase the risk of infections.