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The demyelinating neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complication of infection by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), suggests a new study published in Science by researchers at Harvard Medical School.
The breakthrough findings, powered by a gargantuan dataset taken from two decades of US military personnel, represent the culmination of years of circumstantial evidence showing links between EBV, an endemic and latent infection found in up to 95% of the population, and the onset of MS.
“The key finding is that MS is a complication of infection with EBV,” says study senior author Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. MS has been considered for many years an autoimmune disease of unknown etiology. I think this study establishes that this immune process that leads to brain damage is driven by infection with EBV.”
The link between MS and EBV has been suspected for many years, without any killer study able to establish a solid causal link. While the great majority of healthy adults show prior EBV infection, the number rises even further for MS patients – 99.5% of this group test positive. Ascherio says that this new study firmly establishes that connection. “It was quite striking how black and white the results are. I think the results are very solid and leave very little doubt [about the causal link],” he says.