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    Study Identifies Epstein-Barr Virus Infection as a Leading Cause of Multiple Sclerosis

    Study Identifies Epstein-Barr Virus Infection as a Leading Cause of Multiple Sclerosis

    Photo By Sofia Echelmeyer | Between 2007 and 2016, more than 2,000 active duty service members were diagnosed with...... read more read more



    Story by Sarah Marshall 

    Uniformed Services University

    Between 2007 and 2016, more than 2,000 active duty service members were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that results in significant clinical disability. The cause of this disease has been unknown – that is, until a group of USU researchers recently discovered that Epstein-Barr virus infection could be a primary cause.

    The collaborative study, “Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr Virus associated with multiple sclerosis,” was published Jan. 13 in Science. The team of researchers found that the risk of multiple sclerosis increased 32-fold specifically after infection with Epstein-Barr virus, known for causing mononucleosis, or “mono,” but not after infection with the similarly transmitted cytomegalovirus. Furthermore, they found that levels of neurofilament light chain, a biomarker of neurodegeneration, also increased after Epstein-Barr infection.

    The study was a collaboration between USU, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Basel in Switzerland, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The researchers tested a hypothesis that multiple sclerosis is caused by a dysfunction of the immune system that is triggered by a viral infection. The Epstein-Barr virus is believed to be a top candidate, but evidence linking infection with the Epstein-Barr virus to multiple sclerosis has been inconclusive.

    The researchers tested this hypothesis in a cohort of more than 8 million young adults on active duty in the U.S. military, 955 of whom were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during their period of service. For each individual with multiple sclerosis, the researchers identified up to three serum samples (from the Department of Defense Serum Repository) collected before their onset date of multiple sclerosis. These individuals were then matched to two randomly selected individuals without multiple sclerosis of the same age, sex, race/ethnicity, branch of military service, and dates of blood sample collection.

    These findings cannot be explained by any known risk factor for multiple sclerosis, and the researchers identified Epstein-Barr virus as a leading cause of multiple sclerosis. These findings further suggest that risk of multiple sclerosis might theoretically be modified by antiviral medications that directly target Epstein-Barr virus.

    “Biomarker studies such as this are only practical in very large datasets due to the rarity of the condition studied and long latency between infection and development of disease. This study is an illustration of the enormous value of the Department of Defense Serum Repository and its benefit to the research community and the world,” said Dr. Ann Scher, professor of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics at USU, one of the study’s authors.



    Date Taken: 01.14.2022
    Date Posted: 01.14.2022 09:17
    Story ID: 412903
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US 

    Web Views: 823
    Downloads: 1