A recent study conducted by scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden sheds light on how the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), a common type of herpesvirus, can play a role in the development and progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). With over 90% of the global population carrying EBV without displaying noticeable symptoms, this study offers valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying this complex neurological disease.
Traditionally acquired during childhood, EBV usually remains dormant within the body throughout a person’s life. However, when infected during adolescence or early adulthood, it can lead to infectious mononucleosis, commonly known as glandular fever or the kissing disease.
Previous studies, including papers published in Science and Nature, have established a connection between EBV infection and the onset of MS. These studies have also indicated that antibodies against the virus may be involved in the development of MS. However, the precise molecular mechanisms and the varying effects on different patients have remained largely unknown.
In this recent research, the scientists analyzed blood samples from more than 700 MS patients and 700 healthy individuals. They discovered that specific antibodies directed against a protein found in EBV, called EBNA1, can also target a similar protein present in the brain and spinal cord known as CRYAB. Under normal circumstances, CRYAB acts to prevent protein aggregation during cellular stress, such as inflammation. Unfortunately, these misdirected antibodies, which react to both EBNA1 and CRYAB, can cause damage to the nervous system, resulting in severe MS symptoms like balance issues, mobility problems, and fatigue. The study found that around 23% of MS patients had these antibodies compared to only 7% of the control group.
Lead researcher Olivia Thomas emphasizes the significance of this discovery: “Our study provides an important piece of the puzzle and could explain why some people develop multiple sclerosis. We have found that certain antibodies against the Epstein-Barr virus, which should typically combat the infection, mistakenly target the brain and spinal cord, causing damage.”
Moreover, the research suggests that T cells of the immune system may also exhibit cross-reactivity similar to the antibodies.
The team plans to expand their investigations into understanding how T cells fight EBV infection and how these immune cells contribute to damage in the nervous system, ultimately leading to the progression of multiple sclerosis.
The study was funded by various organizations, including Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Brain Foundation, Karolinska Institutet, MS Forskningsfonden, Neuro, and Region Stockholm. It is worth noting that some of the study’s authors have affiliations with NEOGAP Therapeutics AB and Cellerys, as well as potential conflicts of interest, which are outlined in the scientific paper.
Reference: “Cross-reactive EBNA1 immunity targets alpha-crystallin B and is associated with multiple sclerosis” by Olivia G. Thomas, Mattias Bronge, Katarina Tengvall, Birce Akpinar, Ola B. Nilsson, Erik Holmgren, Tara Hessa, Guro Gafvelin, Mohsen Khademi, Lars Alfredsson, Roland Martin, André Ortlieb Guerreiro-Cacais, Hans Grönlund, Tomas Olsson and Ingrid Kockum, 17 May 2023, Science Advances. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adg3032
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Epstein-Barr Virus and Multiple Sclerosis
What is the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and how common is it?
The Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is a type of herpesvirus and is one of the most commonly found viruses in humans. It is estimated that over 90% of people globally are carriers of EBV, maintaining a latent and typically symptom-free infection throughout their lives.
How does EBV relate to multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Studies have shown a connection between EBV infection and the development and progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). Certain individuals possess antibodies against EBV that mistakenly target a protein in the brain and spinal cord, causing damage and contributing to the symptoms of MS.
What are the symptoms of MS associated with EBV?
MS symptoms associated with EBV include problems with balance, mobility, and fatigue. These misdirected antibodies may damage the nervous system, leading to these severe symptoms in some MS patients.
How common are these misdirected antibodies in MS patients?
The study found that approximately 23% of MS patients had the misdirected antibodies that target both EBV and proteins in the brain and spinal cord. In comparison, only 7% of the control group without MS had these antibodies.
Are these misdirected antibodies required for the development of MS?
The presence of these antibodies is not required for the development of MS. However, the study suggests that they may be involved in disease progression in up to a quarter of MS patients.
What is the significance of this study?
This study provides important insights into the link between EBV and MS, explaining why some individuals develop the disease. It highlights the role of misdirected antibodies targeting the nervous system and emphasizes the need for personalized therapies to address the high variation between patients.
Are there other immune cells involved in the interaction between EBV and MS?
Yes, the study suggests that T cells of the immune system may also exhibit cross-reactivity similar to the misdirected antibodies. Further research is being conducted to investigate the role of T cells in fighting EBV infection and their contribution to damage in the nervous system in MS patients.
More about Epstein-Barr Virus and Multiple Sclerosis
- Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Multiple Sclerosis – National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- Science Advances Journal – “Cross-reactive EBNA1 immunity targets alpha-crystallin B and is associated with multiple sclerosis”
- Karolinska Institute – Department of Clinical Neuroscience
- Neurological Diseases – World Health Organization (WHO)
- Herpesviruses – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
- Immune System – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)