Epstein-Barr Virus and MS Study

Last week, a paper titled ‘Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus associated with multiple sclerosis’ by researchers in Harvard University investigating the role of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) in MS was published. The findings of this study provide a significant step forward in understanding MS and creates opportunities for new research into how this virus can sometimes lead to auto-Immune diseases, such as MS.

EBV Study

The Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is a herpesvirus in which around 95% of adults worldwide have been infected. EBV infection can range from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to infectious mononucleosis (better known as glandular fever). The Epstein Barr virus is transmitted through saliva, which occurs in several ways, such as kissing, sharing food or drinks.

The results of recently published study from Harvard, of 10 million young adults in the US military, has shown that the risk of getting MS is increased 32-fold after infection with EBV. In previous research on EBV and MS a casual link was shown. However, in this new study, neurofilaments (a marker of neurodegeneration), were shown to rise in those who would go on to develop MS, only after EBV infection. This tells us that you must be infected with EBV first, prior to developing MS. This crucial finding is compelling evidence for us to carry out a definitive study to prove that EBV is the cause of MS.

To prove this, we need to develop a vaccine for EBV, and carry out an MS Prevention trial, where the vaccine would prevent MS from developing completely. Moreover, the findings of this study support ongoing clinical trials that target EBV as a therapeutic strategy to treat those who currently have MS. Last week, Moderna announced the human-trial phase of their EBV vaccine study has commenced. The mRNA technology that was developed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic was used for the EBV vaccine. This technology is much faster than previous vaccine technologies, indicating that the Moderna EBV vaccine could be the first to reach the market.

Some experts in the area have said that while the findings of this research help to confirm the causal role of EBV in MS, further research is required to understand why only a small proportion of people who have been infected with EBV go on to develop MS.

Further reading and references:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559285/
  2. https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-study-looking-at-epstein-barr-virus-infection-and-multiple-sclerosis/
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2022/01/14/moderna-starts-human-trials-of-mrna-vaccine-for-virus-that-likely-causes-multiple-sclerosis/?sh=528f21c71a04
  4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/epstein-barr-virus-may-be-leading-cause-of-multiple-sclerosis/
  5. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abj8222