A strain of reactivated herpes virus may be associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues. Results of a study conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in Bethesda, Maryland, add to mounting evidence of the role of viral triggers in MS and may serve as the cornerstone for clinical trials using antiherpetic agents as a treatment. This is the first published large-scale study suggesting an association of a human herpes virus in the disease process of MS.
In the study, more than 70 percent of patients with the relapsing-remitting form of MS showed an increased immune response to human herpes virus-6 (HHV-6) and approximately 35 percent of all MS patients studied had detectable levels of active HHV-6 in their serum. Scientists believe that there may be a point in time during the progression of MS when the virus, which lies dormant in the body for years, reactivates, accounting for its presence in a subset of MS patients. The study appears in the December 1997 issue of Nature Medicine(1).
"We expect that currently available antiviral treatments--for example, acyclovir--might one day be applied successfully to MS," said Steven Jacobson, Ph.D., Chief of the NINDS Viral Immunology Section and the study's principal investigator. "We've suspected a possible role for a virus in MS for quite some time, and these results certainly point to this particular virus. But we need to know more before we move to the clinical trial stage."
As many as 350,000 Americans are affected by MS, which is most often diagnosed
in patients between the ages of 20 and 40 and is characterized by muscle
weakness, visual disturbances, and a variety of other neurological impairments.
The array and severity of symptoms varies widely from patient to patient and
women are more likely to be affected than men. The most common form of MS is
the relapsing-remitting type. In t
Contact: Stephanie Clipper or Marian Emr
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke