Multiple sclerosis is linked to Epstein-Barr virus infection

The aetiology and pathogenesis of MS are unknown, but environmental agents, genetic susceptibility and stochastic events are likely to be involved. In order to evaluate the possibility that MS is linked to EBV infection, we here evaluate studies on MS- and EBV-epidemiology, prospective and retrospective analysis of EBV-serology, investigations of EBV DNA sequences in blood and tissues, specificity of antibodies in oligoclonal bands in MS patients and results from antiviral chemotherapy of MS patients. It could be demonstrated that EBV is complying with the epidemiological observations in MS and that all MS patients are seropositive to EBV in contrast to healthy controls. Importantly, despite difficulties in diagnosing child-MS, the vast majority of these patients are also EBV seropositive. In contrast to control groups, recent EBV infections have never been observed in children or adults with MS. Further prospective studies indicate a 2.8 times higher tendency for development of MS after infectious mononucleosis. In MS patients, unbiased analyses pull out EBV antigens as high-affinity targets for the antibodies in the oligoclonal bands. Humans are the exclusive natural host for EBV, a finding that may explain why MS is unique to humans. Together these unique observations strongly suggest a linkage between MS and EBV infection. Infection by EBV offers numerable mechanisms to perturb the immune system, including mimicry and superantigen induction, which may potentially participate in the disease mechanisms. In contrast, studies demonstrating higher IgG titres and occurrence of viral DNA in serum/plasma are likely to reflect a consequence of the disease. An explanation for a potential role of respiratory diseases in MS is discussed. It is concluded that the ultimate test to the hypothesis of MS and EBV is the development and application of an EBV vaccine, which is predicted to eradicate the disease. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.