At the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis 2017 Forum this past Friday, a number of scientists presented the idea of viral infections leading to an increased risk for Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating disease where the immune system attacks myelin that functions as protection for our nerve fibers and has a cause that has not been fully established. Recently, however, human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), HHV-6, and EBV have been highlighted as leading to a higher chance of attaining Multiple Sclerosis.One study, conducted by Antonina Dolei at the Universita’ degli Studi di Sassari, discussed how HERVs, particularly MSRVenv and Syncytin-1 led to a hyperactivation of the immune system and may work to develop MS. Also, in this study the researchers found that MS patients consistently had HERV-W/MSRV in their blood samples, which then highlights the possibility of using these viruses as biomarkers.
Another study was conducted by Steve Jacobson, who is the Chief of the Viral Immunology Section at the NIH, and he looked at the role that HHV-6 has with MS. While HHV-6 is a very ubiquitous virus, it was also consistently found in MS lesions and outside the brain during MS clinical exacerbations. However, given the ubiquitous nature of the virus, it is hard to establish a strong link between the virus and MS.
Lastly, another study by Alberto Ascherio from Harvard School of Public Health looked at EBV and MS. He found that there was a 10-and 20 fold increase in risk for MS in those individuals that had EBV infection either during childhood or later in life. One again, there isn’t sufficient information to establish a direct link.
In conclusion, more research is being done to see what role viruses might be playing in Multiple Sclerosis development and more will need to be done in order to gain a clearer understanding.