Multiple sclerosis is most likely caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, according to a new study by US researchers. For the first time, they have identified a person responsible for this autoimmune disease. They present their results in a study published this week in the prestigious journal Science (in English). They show that Epstein-Barr virus is necessary for the development of multiple sclerosis, even if all infected people do not develop this disease.
The hypothesis had been studied for several years, but difficult to prove, in particular because this virus is very common, and the symptoms of the disease only begin about ten years after infection.
The researchers followed for twenty years more than 10 million young adults engaged in the American army, of which 955 were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during their service. According to this work, the risk of contracting multiple sclerosis increased 32 times after being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, but remained unchanged after infection with other viruses.
It is “the first study providing convincing evidence of causation”, said Alberto Ascherio, lead author and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “This is an important step, as it suggests that most cases of multiple sclerosis could be prevented by stopping Epstein-Barr virus infection., he added, quoted in a press release. Targeting this virus could lead to the discovery of a cure.” The American company Moderna announced last week that it had started clinical trials on humans of a vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus..
Multiple sclerosis, which affects approximately 2.8 million people worldwide, is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It causes a disruption of the immune system, which attacks myelin, the sheath used to protect nerve fibers. Evolving by “attacks”, the disease is very variable from one patient to another. But it can lead to serious sequelae, and it is one of the frequent causes of disability in young adults.