HealthDay News — The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) possibly may cause multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study published online January 13 in Science.

Kjetil Bjornevik, MD, PhD, from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues examined the association between the prevalence of EBV and MS in a cohort of more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the US military. A total of 955 incident MS cases were documented during the periods of service. EBV infection status was assessed in 801 MS cases and 1566 controls.

The researchers found that only one MS case occurred in an EBV-negative sample (hazard ratio for MS comparing EBV-positive vs negative, 26.5). Thirty-five MS cases and 107 controls were EBV-negative at baseline. During follow-up, all but one of the MS cases became infected with EBV and all seroconverted before MS onset. The hazard ratio was 32.4 for MS comparing EBV seroconversion versus persistent EBV seronegativity. Antibodies against cytomegalovirus (CMV) were measured as a negative control; seroconversion for CMV occurred at a similar rate in those who later developed MS and those who did not. To examine the temporal relation between EBV and MS, serum concentrations of neurofilament light chain (sNFL) were assessed. Individuals who were EBV-negative at baseline and went on to develop MS had sNFL levels that were similar to those of non-MS controls at the time of EBV infection, but levels increased thereafter.

“The extremely low MS risk in EBV-negative individuals suggests that by far most MS cases are caused by EBV and could thus potentially be prevented by a suitable vaccine,” the authors write.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the biopharmaceutical industry; one author is an inventor on a patent application relating to identification of pathogen antibodies in the blood.

Abstract/Full Text