Harvard scientists find the leading cause of multiple sclerosis

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In a recent study from Harvard University, scientists found multiple sclerosis (MS), a progressive disease that affects 2.8 million people worldwide and for which there is no definitive cure, is likely caused by infection with a herpes virus.

MS is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that attacks the myelin sheaths protecting neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

Its cause is not known, yet one of the top suspects is Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpes virus that can cause infectious mononucleosis and lead to a lifelong infection of the host.

In the study, the team examined more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the U.S. military and identified 955 who was diagnosed with MS during their period of service.

They analyzed blood samples taken biennially by the military and determined the soldiers’ EBV status at the time of the first sample and the relationship between EBV infection and MS onset.

They found the risk of MS increased 32 times after infection with EBV but was unchanged after infection with other viruses.

Blood levels of neurofilament light chain, a biomarker of the nerve degeneration typical in MS, increased only after EBV infection.

The findings cannot be explained by any known risk factor for MS and suggest EBV as the leading cause of MS.

The team says that the delay between EBV infection and the onset of MS may be partially due to the disease’s symptoms being undetected during the earliest stages and partially due to the evolving relationship between EBV and the host’s immune system.

Currently, there is no way to effectively prevent or treat EBV infection, but an EBV vaccine or targeting the virus with EBV-specific antiviral drugs could ultimately prevent or cure MS.

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The research is published in Science and was conducted by Alberto Ascherio et al.

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