While prior research has suggested a link between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and multiple sclerosis (MS), new research indicates that the virus may behave in a more complex and subtle way during the disease than previously thought. Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, London, England, report that during the new study, post-mortem brains of MS patients were examined in order to pinpoint areas in which recent neurological damage had occurred. 

Ute-Christiane Meier, PhD, Barts and the London Medical School, part of Queen Mary, led the study. Meier explains the virus’s subtle presence in the body, citing its ability to hide away in the body’s immune cells when not growing and spreading. However, “In this study we used a different technique which allowed us to detect the virus in the brains of some people affected by MS, even when it was hiding away in the cells,” Meier reports.

According to Meier and her research team, study results indicated that the virus was not actively spreading. Instead, the virus was reportedly releasing a chemical message into areas of the brain, activating the body’s immune system and causing inflammation. “Now we understand how EBV gets smuggled into the brain by cells of the immune system and that it is found at the crime scene, right where the attack on our nervous system occurs,” Meier says. She adds that if EBV can be shown as a trigger, there may be a possibility that researchers can alter the course of MS or potentially prevent the condition by treating the virus.

The study’s results also suggest that infection with EBV and EBV’s behavior in the immune system might play a role in other brain diseases, including cancer and stroke.

Source: Queen Mary, London University