The possibility that the virus that causes the so-called "kiss disease" has an important role in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) has long been on the minds of researchers. But, a new study by Harvard University has just provided the strongest evidence to date that indeed the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) plays a key role in triggering this disease.
Now, the study, published in the journal Science, does not address the question of whether EBV is involved in ongoing disease activity in people who already have MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society said.
Drawing on a series of blood samples from more than 10 million military personnel, the research team showed that EBV infection precedes both MS symptoms and damage to the nervous system, and that becoming infected significantly increases the risk of developing MS in susceptible individuals (people whose genetic background, environment, and lifestyle increase their risk of contracting MS).
“Our group and others have for years investigated the hypothesis that EBV causes multiple sclerosis, but this is the first study to provide compelling evidence of causation,” said Italian researcher Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the study. in a statement.
Why is this research important
“This is an impressive study from a highly regarded research group that strengthens the scientific consensus that infection with the Epstein-Barr virus is a trigger for MS,” said Dr. Bruce Bebo, Executive Vice President of Research at the National MS Society. “The development of Epstein-Barr virus vaccines is underway, and once proven safe and effective, it should be tested in a hurry in people at high risk for MS.”
The National MS Society invested in this study as part of its ongoing research commitment to ending MS.
Multiple sclerosis affects 2.8 million people in the world. According to the National Library of Medicine, it is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). It is caused by damage to the myelin sheath. This sheath is the protective covering that surrounds neurons. When this covering of the nerves is damaged, nerve impulses decrease or stop.
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