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Research Reveals Another Possible Epstein-Barr Virus Link to MS

April 25, 2018

Scientists have long thought there was a link between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and multiple sclerosis. However, they had a hard time finding the exact association.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are now reporting another possible connection. Researchers at the Center for Autoimmune Genomics and Etiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have found a viral protein in EBV-infected cells. The researchers think that protein activates a theoretical “switch” that activates genes associated with risk of an autoimmune disease, which obviously includes MS.

What isn’t well-known is that most people are infected with EBV. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s one of the most common human viruses. It comes on in early childhood and its symptoms sometimes aren’t even noticed.  

Scientists know that the EBV infection can produce a protein called EBNA2. In this new research, they found that EBNA2 activates some of the human genes associated with the risk of lupus and several other autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis. Simply put, it flips that autoimmune disease “switch.”

“These findings suggest that EBV infection in cells can actually drive the activation of these genes and contribute to an individual’s risk of developing the disease,” said lead researcher John B. Harley, MD, PhD, in an NIH news release.

And that means more hope for new MS treatments and maybe even a cure.

Daniel Rotrosen, MD, director of the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, added that “now that we understand how EBV infection may contribute to autoimmune diseases in some people, researchers may be able to develop therapies that interrupt or reverse this process.”