Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to be caused by genetic factors, but environmental cues are increasingly recognized to have an impact on disease onset and development. One environmental factor suggested to play a role in MS is infectious agents, such as viruses. Now, different teams of scientists have explored the potential link between different viruses and the risk for MS.
The studies were presented today at the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) 2017 Forum in Orlando, Fla., (Feb. 23-25) in a session titled “Microbial Infections and MS.”
In the study “HERV-W endogenous retroviruses and MS,”Antonina Dolei, PhD, from Universita’ degli Studi di Sassari, in Italy, discussed the link between human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), also known as fossil viruses, and MS incidence.
Two members of this large family of viruses — MSRVenv and Syncytin-1 — were shown to have properties that lead to hyper-activation of the immune system, and have been suggested to play a role in MS development. Proteins of both viruses have been reported to cause neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation, alterations of the immune system, and stress responses.
Moreover, “HERV-W/MSRV was repeatedly found in MS patients (in blood, spinal fluid, and brain samples), in striking parallel with MS stages and active/remission phases, and therapy outcome. The HERV-Wenv protein is highly expressed in MS plaques, linked to the extent of active demyelination and inflammation,” researchers wrote.
Overall, the results suggest that these types of viruses may be used as biomarkers for disease progression and to assess the effects of therapeutics.
The strong evidence linking HERVs to MS prompted two ongoing clinical trials that are testing an MSRV protein (MSRVenv) as a therapeutic target.
In the study “Evidence Linking HHV-6 with MS,” Steve Jacobson, chief of the Viral Immunology Section at the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, discussed the potential role of the human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) in MS.
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