Scientists find an important cause of multiple sclerosis

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In the quest to understand the complexities of multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet have made significant progress.

Their study sheds light on the potential role of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in triggering or worsening this neurological condition.

Published in Science Advances, their research focuses on how certain people’s immune responses to the virus might inadvertently harm their own brain and spinal cord.

EBV is a type of herpesvirus that the majority of people around the world encounter at some point in their lives, usually during childhood. For most, it remains dormant in the body, not causing any noticeable issues.

In some young adults, though, it can lead to infectious mononucleosis, often dubbed the “kissing disease” due to its mode of transmission.

The link between EBV and MS has puzzled scientists for years. Previous research hinted at the connection, suggesting that an EBV infection often comes before MS diagnosis. The exact reasons, however, remained elusive, until now.

At the heart of the Karolinska Institutet’s findings is the discovery of certain antibodies. These are proteins the body produces to fight off viruses like EBV.

However, in some individuals, these antibodies mistakenly attack a similar protein in the brain and spinal cord known as CRYAB. This protein plays a critical role in protecting cells under stress, such as inflammation, which is common in MS.

The study analyzed blood samples from over 700 people with MS and 700 without, finding that about 23% of those with MS had antibodies that not only targeted EBV but also mistakenly attacked their own brain cells. In contrast, only about 7% of those without MS had these antibodies.

This insight is crucial as it helps explain why some people develop MS, offering a significant piece of the puzzle in understanding this complex disease.

It suggests that for a quarter of MS patients, their body’s response to EBV could be contributing to their symptoms, which can range from balance and mobility issues to severe fatigue.

Moreover, the researchers are not stopping at antibodies. They’re also exploring how T cells, another component of the immune system, might similarly react to EBV and inadvertently harm the nervous system.

This line of inquiry could lead to a deeper understanding of MS and its progression, opening up possibilities for more personalized treatments in the future.

The findings from Karolinska Institutet represent a leap forward in the fight against MS. By unraveling the connection between EBV and the immune system’s response, scientists are closer to pinpointing why this disease affects certain individuals.

This research not only provides hope for those living with MS but also underscores the importance of tailored therapeutic approaches in managing such a complex condition.

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