Multiple sclerosis is most likely caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, according to a new study by American researchers, who have for the first time identified a culprit of this autoimmune disease.
This discovery raises the hope of the possible development of a future treatment, which would make it possible to cure this disease affecting approximately 2.8 million people in the world.
About 95% of all adults are infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can also cause other illnesses, such as mononucleosis.
Hypothesis studied for several years
The study, published this week in the prestigious journal Science, shows that this virus is necessary for the development of multiple sclerosis, even if all infected people do not develop this disease.
The hypothesis had been studied for several years, but difficult to prove, in particular because this virus is very common, and the symptoms of the disease only begin about ten years after infection.
Convincing evidence of causation
This is “the first study to provide convincing evidence of causation,” said Alberto Ascherio, lead author and professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.
Most cases of multiple sclerosis could be prevented
“This is an important step, as it suggests that most cases of multiple sclerosis could be prevented by stopping Epstein-Barr virus infection,” he added, quoted in a statement. “Targeting this virus could lead to the discovery of a cure. »
The researchers followed for 20 years more than 10 million young adults enlisted in the American army, of which 955 were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during their service. According to this work, the risk of contracting multiple sclerosis increased 32 times after being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, but remained unchanged after infection with other viruses.
According to researchers at Stanford University, who published a commentary on the study in the journal Science, other factors, for example genetic, could play a role in the fact of developing or not developing the disease.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It causes a disruption of the immune system, which attacks myelin, the sheath used to protect nerve fibers. Evolving by “attacks”, the disease is highly variable from one patient to another but can lead to sequelae, and is one of the frequent causes of disability in young adults.
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