United States: Epstein-Barr is a common virus that most individuals contract at one level or the other. For many years, researchers have assumed a link between this virus and multiple sclerosis MS – an autoimmune disease type that affects every 36 in about one hundred thousand people globally.
Therefore, for scientists to understand how the virus causes MS – especially during the early stages when symptoms develop- has been difficult.
Research works carried out by scientists from the University of Texas have progressed in elucidating how a virus activates immune cells during the initiation phase of MS, which is when symptoms appear, although MS has not been diagnosed officially, as reported by sciencealert.com news daily.
This study has been published in PNAS.
While the relationship between the Epstein-Barr virus and MS has been known, identifying how exactly this leads to developing Multiple Sclerosis proved to be a difficult task. The infections are waves that appear several years before MS manifests itself; therefore, it is complicated for researchers to understand the actual mechanics of disease development.
In MS, the immune system erroneously attacks the myelin coating of nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. It is believed that this happens due to the immune system mistaking certain proteins present in the Epstein-Barr virus for foreign molecules, which are also similar to others found in the brain and myelin.
The result is confusion by B cells, a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies that mistakenly tag the wrong molecule for destruction.
Apart from B cells, T cells are also integral elements of the immune system. They are able to detect foreign invaders through the identification of certain protein fragments (antigens) present on their surface.
The research teams of the University of Texas investigated this aspect of the immune system by focusing on interactions between T cells in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, as per the health news website.
The findings revealed that 13 percent of the T cells in patients’ blood recognized Epstein-Barr virus-infected cells, but only four identified as flu antigens. In the cerebrospinal fluid, T cells specific for Epstein-Barr virus-infected cells were considerably higher than found in 47 percent of the analyzed samples.
Furthermore, the researchers conveyed through their paper that the conclusion showed that the T cells that recognize the EBV-infected cells are “present in the CSF at the earliest stages of MS, suggesting that they are likely to play an important role in pathogenesis,” as per sciencealert.com.
In addition to this, the UTHealth neurologist and study author – J William Lindsey, stated, “This strongly suggests that these T cells are either causing the disease or contributing to it in some way. We have experiments in progress to define what these cells may be doing.”
Other scientists who aren’t involved in this research say these results offer strong evidence that EBV is associated with MS. But it should be pointed out that this study included only eight (8) patients.
However, studies like this one are essential for focusing on the intricacies of possible mechanisms. They aid in filling the gaps left by mega studies and identifying broader patterns.
Perhaps there is more to this story. However, EBV is not just associated with MS; it may also cause chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis/ME-CFS, as per sciencealert.com.
Considering that the virus is so common, it causes a lot of havoc for the health of the general public.