This is a discovery that raises a lot of hope. Last January, American researchers established a link between multiple sclerosis and the Epstein-Barr virus. A scientific breakthrough that could ultimately lead to a better response to this disease, underline specialists in multiple sclerosis.
Treatments, which aim to block inflammation, have “greatly advanced over the past ten years”, and patient follow-up is “more individualised”, explains neurologist Jean Pelletier, of the French foundation Arsep (Aide à la recherche sur la multiple sclerosis). And, he believes, new breakthroughs could emerge from the discovery made in January.
Multiple sclerosis, what is it?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It causes a disruption of the immune system, which attacks myelin, the protective sheath of nerve fibers.
Most often, it causes inflammatory flare-ups interspersed with calm phases. The disease is very variable from one patient to another but can lead to sequelae, and is one of the frequent causes of disability in young adults.
It is estimated that more than 2.8 million people are affected by this autoimmune disease worldwide, including around 110,000 people in France. Children and adolescents remain a minority of cases, but the disease may have started long before it can be diagnosed.
The discovery of a link with the Epstein-Barr virus indeed suggests that most cases of multiple sclerosis could be prevented by stopping infection with this pathogen. This virus affects 95% of adults and is the cause of other diseases such as mononucleosis. But not all infected people develop multiple sclerosis.
In addition to “a better understanding of what may be involved in this multifactorial disease”, the study “suggests that we could prevent multiple sclerosis from breaking out if we vaccinated children against the Epstein- Barr, knowing that we do not have a vaccine for the moment, ”according to Professor Pelletier.
“This famous Epstein-Barr virus, once contracted, it is hidden in our body in the B lymphocytes, themselves involved in the inflammatory reaction linked to multiple sclerosis. This could explain in particular that certain treatments targeting B lymphocytes, monoclonal antibodies, are extremely effective against multiple sclerosis,” he says.