Do you know the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)? According to a new study by American researchers, it would most likely cause multiple sclerosis. For the first time, scientists have identified a person responsible for this autoimmune disease. This discovery raises hope for the possible development of a future treatment, which would cure this disease affecting approximately 2.8 million people worldwide.
About 95% of all adults are infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, which can also cause other illnesses, such as mononucleosis. The study, published this week in the prestigious journal Science, shows that this virus is necessary for the development of multiple sclerosis, even if all infected people do not develop this disease.
The hypothesis had been studied for several years, but difficult to prove, in particular because this virus is very common, and the symptoms of the disease only begin about ten years after infection. It’s “the first study to provide compelling evidence of causation,” said Alberto Ascherio, lead author and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“This is an important step, as it suggests that most cases of multiple sclerosis could be prevented by stopping Epstein-Barr virus infection,” he added, quoted in a statement. “Targeting this virus could lead to the discovery of a cure. The researchers followed more than 10 million young adults in the US military for 20 years, 955 of whom were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during their service.
According to this work, the risk of contracting multiple sclerosis increased 32 times after being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, but remained unchanged after infection with other viruses. According to researchers at Stanford University, who published a commentary on the study in the journal Science, other factors, such as genetics, could play a role in whether or not you develop the disease.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It causes a disruption of the immune system, which attacks myelin, the sheath used to protect nerve fibers. Evolving by “attacks”, the disease is very variable from one patient to another but can lead to sequelae, and is one of the frequent causes of disability in young adults. The American company Moderna announced last week that it had started clinical trials on humans of a vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus.