Study: Epstein Barr virus protects against autoimmune disease

April 2, 2012

To the surprise of investigating researchers, an animal model of Epstein Barr virus protected lupus-prone mice against development of the autoimmune disease. Earlier work had suggested that EBV might promote the development of autoimmunity.

"We were completely surprised. So, we redid the experiments, and the results came out the same," said Dr. Pelanda, lead author on the paper appearing online in the Proceesing of the National Academy of Sciences. "We believe these findings could lead to therapeutic targets for lupus and other autoimmune diseases."

(EBV) infects most people in the United States by the time they are adults. It causes mononucleosis in about 35 to 50 percent of those infected. Acute symptoms usually pass within weeks, after which the virus goes into a dormant state within the body. The infection persists for a person's entire life and can activate in some cases.

Although the virus infects the vast majority of adults, it is found in an even higher percentage of , leading to the hypothesis that it may predispose people to .

EBV does not infect mice, but a related virus, gammahervesvirus 68, does and has a similar pattern of infection and symptoms. So Dr. Pelanda and her colleagues infected a mouse model of lupus with the virus. One hundred percent of the lupus model mice develop lupus by about one year of age.

In those mice infected with the gammaherpesvirus 68, however, antibodies associated with lupus did not increase, and actually decreased significantly in female mice. In kidneys, a major site of tissue damage in lupus, viral infection reduced tissue damage from 80 percent to 20 percent. Other measures of lupus, including activation of lymphocytes and , were also reduced in lupus-prone mice infected with the gammaherpesvirus 68.

"The virus inhibits the development and progression of lupus on many levels, from cellular to humoral and organ," said Dr. Pelanda. "For that reason, we believe it is affecting a basic mechanisms of ."

The researchers do not know how the gammaherpesvirus inhibits lupus, but have begun a systematic series of experiments to evaluate several potential mechanisms.

More information: “Murine gammaherpesvirus 68 infection protects lupus-prone mice from the development of autoimmunity,” by Jennifer D. Larson et al. PNAS, 2012.

Related Stories

First lupus breakthrough in 50 years

April 28, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A Monash researcher has played a crucial role in the first major lupus treatment breakthrough for over 50 years.

NIH scientists outline steps toward Epstein-Barr virus vaccine

November 2, 2011

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects nine out of ten people worldwide at some point during their lifetimes. Infections in early childhood often cause no disease symptoms, but people infected during adolescence or young adulthood ...

Recommended for you

How to become a T follicular helper cell

July 30, 2015

Follicular helper Tcells (TFH cells), a rare type of immune cell that is essential for inducing a strong and lasting antibody response to viruses and other microbes, have garnered intense interest in recent years but the ...

Uncovering the secrets of immune system invaders

July 20, 2015

The human immune system is a powerful and wonderful creation. If you cut your skin, your body mobilizes a series of different proteins and cells to heal the cut. If you are infected by a virus or bacteria, your immune system ...

The role of the microbiota in preventing allergies

July 10, 2015

The human body is inhabited by billions of symbiotic bacteria, carrying a diversity that is unique to each individual. The microbiota is involved in many mechanisms, including digestion, vitamin synthesis and host defense. ...

0 comments

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.