Study suggests herpesvirus variant may raise risk of Multiple Sclerosis

Islamabad (16th Dec, 2019): Recent study suggests that one of the two similar variants of human herpesvirus 6 significantly increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis commonly known as MS.

MS or multiple sclerosis which is an autoimmune condition, affects almost 400,000 Trusted Source people within the United States alone. The medical condition is known for affecting the central nervous system, that leads to the immune system attacking the protective myelin sheath around the nerve cells, the phenomenon is considered a form of ‘tricking’.

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While, MS is not entirely unheard of, the medical community has as of yet been unable to identify its primary causes. It is believed by many health professionals that the genetic predisposition of an individual plays a vital role in triggering the MS ‘risk genes’ along with the environmental factors that may include:

  • smoking
  • viral infections

Moreover, out of all the viruses that may play their part in the development of MS, it is the Epstein-Barr virus or the EBV which has garnered the most attention from researchers in this regard. EBV is also known to cause mononucleosis. The EBV Trusted Source also commonly known as the human herpesvirus 4, is a part of the herpesvirus family. Epidemiological studies have pointed out earlier that EBV as well as other external, environmental factors are potential causes for MS. Simultaneously, recent research argues that EBV can activate risk genes for other autoimmune conditions as well, such as lupus.

Scientists have often associated the human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) with MS. Studies prior to this have linked HHV-6 and MS however, they have been unable to establish the difference between herpesvirus 6A (HHV-6A) and herpesvirus 6B (HHV-6B), respectively. Consequently, the recent research is focused on the distinctions and examining the associations with MS. Senior researcher, Anna Fogdell-Hahn of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden and team examined antibodies in the blood of almost 8,742 people suffering from MS and 7,215 matched controls. They further studied pre-MS cohort of 478 people and 476 matched controls, respectively.

It was concluded that among the MS cohort, the participants were matched for age at diagnosis, sex, and residency while in the pre-MS cohort the participants were matched for “biobank, sex, date of blood sampling, and date of birth.” The research team examined the antibodies against proteins that differ the most between HHV-6A and HHV-6B thus, leading to the distinguishing between the two forms of the virus.

Based on the research, it was concluded that the participants who had MS were at an almost 55 percent higher risk of having antibodies against the HHV-6A protein, as compared to their matched controls. Moreover, in the pre-MS group it was discovered that the people with 6A viral infections were twice as likely to develop MS in comparison to their matched controls. However, HHV-6B was found to have no association with MS. It was further inferred that the earlier the discovery of the virus, the more likely the risk of developing MS.

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The scientists also found that the people who had EBV as well as HHV-6A had an even higher risk of developing MS. As Fogdell-Hahn claims, that it is a “breakthrough for both MS and herpesvirus research”. She explains that while the study supports the theory that HHV-6A may be a contributing factor towards the eventual development of Multiple Sclerosis, researchers are now able to discover how common the two variants, HHV-6A and HHV-6B are.

Fogdell-Hahn adds that this is something they were unable to do prior to this recent study. Moreover, she elaborates that while both variants can infect the brain cells, they do so in different ways.


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