Could being infected with this virus lead to Multiple Sclerosis?

Science and Health

In a recently published study, researchers followed more than ten million American soldiers over twenty years and discovered that infection with the Epstein-Barr virus almost always precedes the onset of multiple sclerosis. So how does it happen?

Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the sheath of nerve cell extensions. The damage to the sheath disrupts communication between the nerve cells. MS symptoms include weakness, motor difficulties, blurred vision and more.

The study showed that Epstein-Barr is definitely a precursor to MS yet it’s still unclear how the virus activates the process of MS and what is the root cause of this disease.

A new study in Sweden offers a possible explanation for this finding. Researchers tested the blood of approximately 1400 subjects, half of whom had MS and half of whom didn’t. 

Proper and improper behavior of antibodies

When the immune system is working properly and the body encounters a foreign agent, it produces antibodies to identify and eliminate it.  Yet after a person is infected with Epstein-Barr, antibodies are formed in his body to the protein that the virus produces, a protein called EBNA1. 

Greatly increases the risk of developing MS. Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis. (credit: ARTUR PLAWGO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

This protein is similar to a protein produced naturally in the human body, CRYAB. Researchers hypothesized that because of this similarity, antibodies that attack the virus’s protein might also attack the human protein.

Indeed, the researchers discovered that a patient’s immune system attacks the human protein and it’s possible that this reaction causes symptoms like inflammation to develop in the body; this inflammation is one of the underlying causes of MS. 

This is a preliminary finding, and further research is required to determine the involvement and degree of this reaction to the onset of MS and its degree of severity.