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Stronger evidence found linking Epstein-Barr virus and risk of multiple sclerosis

at antibodies--proteins produced by the body to fight infection--to the Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen (EBNA) complex and its component EBNA-1 in individuals with MS were elevated up to 20 years before the first symptoms of the disease and persisted thereafter. Lead author Gerald N. DeLorenze, Ph.D., Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, and his colleagues cite three other studies--the Nurses' Health Study, a U.S. army personnel study, and a study in Vasterbotten County, northern Sweden--that also showed a similar finding, but none of the previous studies could draw data from blood samples collected two decades or longer before the onset of MS symptoms.

"Collectively, the results of this and the previous studies provide compelling evidence that infection with EBV is a risk factor in the development of MS," said Alberto Ascherio, senior author of the study and Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

Although there is strong evidence of an association between EBV and MS risk, researchers are still uncertain how the Epstein-Barr virus contributes to the inflammation of the myelin--the protective coating around the nerve fibers--that leads to the debilitating disease. The fact that EBV infects B-lymphocytes, cells of the immune system that are part of our defenses against infection, seems to fit with the evidence of immune dysfunction in MS, but rigorous work remains to be done to unravel the molecular mechanisms.

The authors note that the mounting evidence that relates EBV infection to other autoimmune diseases, particularly systemic lupus, suggests that EBV may have a broad role in predisposing genetically susceptible individuals to autoimmune reactions and that comparative studies of EBV, MS, and lupus could be useful to find new clues to their possible commonalities.

"Discovering strong risk factors is the task of epidemiologists and an important initial step in finding ways to diagnose
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Contact: Todd Datz
tdatz@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-3952
Harvard School of Public Health
11-Apr-2006


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