Multiple sclerosis vaccine prospect as link to common virus reinforced

Scientists have identified several mechanisms that protect people from an Epstein-Barr virus-induced autoimmune reaction, it has been announced.

This could help in the development of a vaccine to protect against multiple sclerosis, which has been linked to EBV infection, according to the Austrian researchers.

Researchers from the Centre for Virology and the Department of Neurology at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, think they can now explain the viral link to multiple sclerosis.

Writing in Cell, they say they hope their findings lead to possible targets for the development of a vaccine to protect against MS.

In most patients who develop MS, specific immune responses against EBV are detectable, which are also directed against certain structures of the central nervous system and thus contribute to the development of MS.

However, it was unclear why an EBV infection only leads to MS in a small number of people.

A research group led by Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl has now shown the MS risk is particularly high in people if the EBV-specific and autoreactive immune responses are strong and the patients are unable to control this autoimmunity efficiently.

The researchers identified a subgroup of the natural killer cells of the human immune system as a potential key factor for protection against MS.

First author Hannes Vietzen from the Centre for Virology said: “These immune responses could therefore play a decisive role in the development of future vaccines,” says describing the new possibilities that arise from the research work with regard to the prevention and early detection of MS.”

The researchers said the development of MS was dependent on certain genetic factors as well as on infection with a specific EBV virus variant, which their laboratory experiments found resulted in a significantly weakened immune response against the autoreactive processes. This, therefore, contributes to the development of MS.

Vietzen added: “It may be helpful to analyse the EBV variants detected in these patients in order to identify patients at risk at an early stage.”

Vietzen H, Berger SM, Kühner LM et al. Ineffective control of Epstein-Barr virus-induced autoimmunity increases the risk for multiple sclerosis. Cell December 2023; doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.11.015


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