Research proving link between virus and MS could point the way to treatment and prevention

January 5, 2012

A new study from researchers at Queen Mary, University of London shows how a particular virus tricks the immune system into triggering inflammation and nerve cell damage in the brain, which is known to cause MS.

Previous research has suggested a link between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and multiple sclerosis but the research has remained controversial since scientists have so far failed to substantiate the link.

The new study proves the virus is involved in a manner more sophisticated and subtle than previously imagined, and may offer new ways to treat or prevent the disease.

MS is a that affects around 100,000 people in the UK. It can cause , difficulties with walking and fatigue, and tends to strike mainly young and middle-aged women.

Its causes are not completely understood but both genes and environment are known to play a role.

Some previous research has suggested that EBV triggers MS but subsequent studies have failed to find the connection.

The new research, which is published in the journal Neurology, looked at post mortem brains of , examining areas where had recently occurred.

Lead researcher, Dr Ute-Christiane Meier explained: "EBV is quite a clever virus; when it's not growing and spreading it can hide away in our .

"In this study we used a different technique which allowed us to detect the virus in the brains of some people affected by MS, even when it was hiding away in the cells."

Dr Meier and her team of collaborators found that, although the virus was not actively spreading, it was releasing a chemical message into areas of the brain nearby. This chemical message - made up of small - was activating the body's immune system, causing inflammation. This damages in the brain and causes .

Dr Meier continued: "We have to be careful and have to study more MS brains but this is potentially very exciting research. Now we understand how EBV gets smuggled into the brain by cells of the immune system and that it is found at the crime scene, right where the attack on our nervous system occurs. Now we know this, we may have a number of new ways of treating or even preventing the disease."

One possibility is the widely-used cancer treatment Rituximab; a drug which is known to kill the cells of the immune system in which the virus hides. It is now being trialed as a treatment for MS.

Another possible approach, using anti-viral treatment, will be tested in clinical trials currently in preparation by Professor Gavin Giovannoni and colleagues, also at Queen Mary.

"If we can pinpoint EBV as a trigger, it's possible that we could alter the course of MS or potentially even prevent the condition by treating the virus," Dr Meier added.

"MS so often strikes young women and its unpredictable nature makes it an incredibly difficult disease to live with. We desperately need better ways to tackle the condition."

Interestingly, the research also hinted that infection with EBV and its action on the immune system could also be playing a role in other brain diseases such as cancer and stroke.

Explore further: New glandular fever, genes and MS link

Related Stories

New glandular fever, genes and MS link

July 22, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Scientists working on the Australian-based Ausimmune Study have discovered that a past infection with glandular fever, also known as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), combined with genetic variations in the ...

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

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Cellular roots of anxiety identified

July 26, 2017
From students stressing over exams to workers facing possible layoffs, worrying about the future is a normal and universal experience. But when people's anticipation of bad things to come starts interfering with daily life, ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

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.