Epstein-Barr Virus & MS: What's The Link?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and inflammatory condition that can affect your central nervous system. It affects your spinal cord and brain. MS can cause your immune system to attack the nerve cells' protective layers. Sometimes, these cells may die.
MS is not curable, however scientists have made progress in understanding the causes. There is strong evidence that virus can cause MS, particularly Epstein-Barr virus. These findings may lead scientists to better treatments or preventions for MS.
What's Epstein Barr Virus (EBV),?
EBV, a herpesvirus that spreads through saliva, is the most common type. EBV is a type of herpes virus that most people get in their childhood. Although it causes few or no symptoms, it affects the majority. EBV, also known as mononucleosis or infectious mononucleosis (EBV), is the most common cause. Mono is most common in young people and adolescents.
EBV infection symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
- Feeling tired?
EBV is spread quickly. However, EBV will not spread to your body like other herpesviruses. It is possible for this "latent" virus to become active later. If this happens, you may experience symptoms or none.
EBV is not curable.
What Do Studies Say about Epstein Barr Virus and MS
Since long, scientists have suspected EBV infection is a major factor in MS. However, it has not been easy to establish if there was a causal link. However, new evidence strongly supports this link. This scientific data comes from two new studies, including:
The Harvard study. A Harvard T.H. scientists led a team of researchers to test the EBV theory. The data was gathered from over 10 million active military service members by the Chan School of Public Health. 955 people were found to have MS in their 20-year service.
The average MS diagnosis began 10 years after the initial blood test.
Researchers identified the EBV status of 801 people with MS. This was determined by analysing blood samples from each patient every two years following the beginning of military service.
Results from the study show:
About five years after first EBV positive test, MS symptoms began. EBV infection increased the likelihood of getting MS 32 times. MS did not occur in people with other viruses. Also, the team looked into changes in neurofilament's light chain (NFL). It's a protein which supports your nerve fibers (or axons). When MS causes damage to your outer nerve layer, such as the spinal cord or brain, the fluid surrounding your brain will contain NF-L.
Biomarkers such as NFL are common signs or indicators of diseases that damage nerve tissue or weaken it. For those suffering from MS, research has shown that NFL levels only increased after EBV infections.
The study didn't look at whether EBV causes active disease or flare-ups in people who already have MS. The study compared and measured NF-L samples before, during, or after a MS diagnosis. The study did measure disease activity.
The Stanford Medicine study. The Stanford Medicine study found evidence of molecular mimicry. Because it doesn't know the difference, the immune system will target healthy and germ cells. This explanation is often used to help explain MS, at the very least, in part, by pointing out how viruses can cause it.
The Stanford study found 20 percent to 25 percent of people with MS make antibodies that stick to both a protein EBV makes and a protein the brain and spinal cord make.
The molecular combination that could cause MS is shown below:
EBV causes white blood cells to begin fighting against EBNA1, the EBV nuclear antibody 1. However, the virus protein could look very much like a glial cell adhesion mole, which is a part of your central nervous systems.
GlialCAM, a protein that is essential for myelin (or the protection around nerve cells), is an important component of your myelin.
Some people suffering from MS have antibodies that are cross-reactive with GlialCAM. This was discovered by researchers. This means that the immune system may be able to kill both EBV protein and an essential part of healthy nerve cell cells.
Does Epstein-Barr Virus Cause MS for Sure?
The Harvard study stopped short of saying their results directly prove EBV triggers MS. They do not believe that any MS risk factors can explain their results. EBV remains the most likely reason.
Scientists at Stanford Medicine claim their study is the first to "definitively" show that EBV can trigger MS in some people.
What does the EBV Link mean for MS Treatment?
These studies support the idea that antiviral drug treatments that target EBV may be able to treat MS.
Anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody therapy is one of the most effective treatments currently available for MS. It lowers immunity cells, called memory cells. This is the area where EBV lives most. You can also get rid of some active EBV infections by getting rid of white blood cells.
Scientists may be able use this information to determine how MS can be prevented if EBV is responsible. And research from the Stanford study suggests vaccine makers might need to avoid certain antigens, such as EBNA1, that might trigger an autoimmune reaction.
People with MS might be able, in the near future, to receive a "reverse vaccination." This would, much like an allergy shot. It would instruct the immune system not to attack GlialCAM nerve cells.
Do You Need to Worry About MS if You Have EBV
EBV will affect approximately 95 percent of the population. Most people infected with EBV don't get MS. This is a rare condition. MS is a condition that affects approximately half the country's population. Another way to put it, the United States has more than 332million people. Around 1 million might develop MS. Almost all people will eventually get EBV.
Experts believe that an EBV infection such as mono is a prerequisite for developing MS. It's just one factor. You also have to think about your biology, genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
If you combine the following, your chances of getting MS could increase.
- You're female.
- You know someone close to you who has MS.
- You smoke.
- Migraine is a common condition.
- Vitamin D levels are very low in your body.
Your doctor should be consulted about any concerns you have about EBV/MS. This will ensure that they are keeping an eye on your overall health. Early treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms, and slow down disease progression, if you are diagnosed with MS. Other treatment options may also be available.
Not sure if you've had EBV? Tell your doctor. You can be sure by a simple blood test.