Science magazine notes that, according to the results of the study, multiple sclerosis is a disease of unknown etiology, but most likely it is a complication of infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, a type of herpes.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that affects the myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and for the unknown cause, there is no vaccine or drug to treat it.
One hypothesis indicates that it is related to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), but so far this relationship has not been confirmed between the herpes virus, which affects about 90 percent of patients, and the relatively rare multiple sclerosis.
In order to determine this relationship, Harvard Medical School scientists conducted a study that included more than ten million American soldiers and discovered that 955 of them were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during service in the army. After analyzing samples of the blood of participants in the study, it became clear to the researchers that the risk of developing multiple sclerosis increases by 32 percent in those who carry EBV compared to those who do not carry the virus in their body.
The researchers noted, that serum levels of light chain filaments – a biomarker of neurodegeneration typical of multiple sclerosis – increased after EBV infection, and the first symptoms of the disease appeared about ten years after infection. According to them, this clearly indicates that the main cause of multiple sclerosis is the herpes virus, which causes an increase in infectious mononucleosis and a latent infection for the life of the host.
According to Professor Alberto Achorio, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, this is a big step, because it indicates that most cases of MS can be prevented by stopping EBV infection, and that targeting EBV can lead to the discovery of a cure for MS.
The researchers believe that the delay between infection with EBV and the onset of multiple sclerosis may be due to the lack of symptoms of the disease in the early stages, as well as due to the stable association that has developed between the immune system and the virus as a result of its repeated reactivation.
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