InsideMS, Winter 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 1
In a recent study, Harvard researchers found higher levels of immune antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in people who went on to develop MS than in people who did not. EBV is one of the most common human viruses—most people in the world become infected with it at some point during their lives. Most of the time, EBV infection is silent. But in adolescence or young adulthood, EBV can result in infectious mononucleosis almost half of the time.
The research was published in the December 26, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Alberto Ascherio and his Harvard colleagues analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Studies, which have been following the health status of 230,000 female registered nurses since 1976. The team looked for evidence of exposure to EBV and other viruses for comparison, both before and after MS diagnosis.
While virtually all of the nurses had antibodies indicating exposure to EBV, based on several measurements, the nurses who went on to develop MS had, on average, higher levels of EBV antibodies in their blood than those who did not develop MS. The team also analyzed the blood of 126 women with MS whose blood was collected after the onset of MS—and found significantly higher levels of antibodies than in women without MS.
While EBV has been proposed as a possible infectious trigger for MS in the past, this is the first published study in which exposure to the virus was determined prior to diagnosis.
Other studies have shown associations of MS with EBV and many other viral and bacterial infections. None, including this most recent study, has been able to prove a causative link.
The Harvard team, noting that exposure to EBV is common in most adults, suggests that EBV may be one of several factors that determine MS. More research is needed to determine whether EBV has a direct role.
For additional information
“Researchers Find High Levels Of Antibodies Against Epstein-Barr Virus In Persons With MS” (Research bulletin)
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society