Infection with the human herpesvirus (HHV)-6A may increase the likelihood of having multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new national study in Sweden.
The research, “Serological response against HHV-6A is associated with increased risk for multiple sclerosis,” was presented by Anna Fogdell-Hahn, PhD, associate professor at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, at the 35th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS), held in Stockholm Sept. 11-13.
HHV-6 viruses are estimated to infect approximately 80% of people during childhood. Whether these viruses are involved in MS development has remained unclear, but reports have suggested an association with disease onset, MS-related brain lesions, and impaired repair of myelin, the protective layer of nerve fibers.
Now, an international team from Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Japan conducted a large study — called “The Megarun” — to investigate the potential association between HHV-6 and MS development by using a novel serology (blood serum) method.
The serological assay measured antibodies — IgG, the most abundant immunoglobulin class in humans — against the immediate-early protein 1 from HHV-6A (IE1A), and from HHV-6B (IE1B), the two viral strains of HHV-6.
The study included 8,742 MS patients, and 478 individuals assessed prior to disease onset, as well as matched controls for both groups.
Besides statistical analyses to investigate possible correlations with MS, the scientists also conducted genome-wide association tests to explore links with HLA haplotypes, which refers to a set of polymorphisms (gene variants) that tend to be inherited together.
Of note, distinct variants of HLA genes, which code for proteins that help the body distinguish between self and foreign, have been associated with opposite effects on the risk of having MS — protection vs. greater likelihood and younger age at MS onset.
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