Study: Common virus + low sunlight exposure may increase risk of MS

April 18, 2011

New research suggests that people who are exposed to low levels of sunlight coupled with a history of having a common virus known as mononucleosis may be at greater odds of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) than those without the virus. The research is published in the April 19, 2011, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"MS is more common at higher latitudes, farther away from the equator," said George C. Ebers, MD, with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Since the disease has been linked to environmental factors such as low levels of sun exposure and a history of infectious mononucleosis, we wanted to see whether the two together would help explain the variance in the disease across the United Kingdom."

Infectious mononucleosis is a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is a Herpes virus that is extremely common but causes no symptoms in most people. However, when a person contracts the virus as a teenager or adult, it often leads to infectious mononucleosis. The body makes vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light.

For the study, researchers looked at all to National Health Service hospitals in England over seven years. Specifically, they identified 56,681 cases of and 14,621 cases of infectious mononucleosis. Scientists also looked at NASA data on ultraviolet intensity in England.

The study found that adding the effects of sunlight exposure and mononucleosis together explained 72 percent of the variance in the occurrence of MS across the United Kingdom. Sunlight exposure alone accounted for 61 percent of the variance.

"It's possible that may lead to an abnormal response to the Epstein-Barr virus," Ebers said.

He noted that low in the spring was most strongly associated with MS risk. "Lower levels of UVB in the spring season correspond with peak risk of MS by birth month. More research should be done on whether increasing UVB exposure or using vitamin D supplements and possible treatments or vaccines for the Epstein-Barr could lead to fewer cases of MS."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Rat brain atlas provides MR images for stereotaxic surgery

October 21, 2016

Boris Odintsov, senior research scientist at the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and Thomas Brozoski, research professor ...

ALS study reveals role of RNA-binding proteins

October 20, 2016

Although only 10 percent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases are hereditary, a significant number of them are caused by mutations that affect proteins that bind RNA, a type of genetic material. University of California ...

Imaging technique maps serotonin activity in living brains

October 20, 2016

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's partly responsible for feelings of happiness and for mood regulation in humans. This makes it a common target for antidepressants, which block serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons ...

Overcoming egocentricity increases self-control

October 19, 2016

Neurobiological models of self-control usually focus on brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation. Recent research at the University of Zurich shows that the mechanism for overcoming egocentricity ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.