Genetic variants may contribute to increased levels of antibodies against proteins of the Epstein-Barr virus — a known environmental risk factor for multiple sclerosis (MS) — in MS patients and their siblings, a study suggests.
The study, “EBNA-1 titer gradient in families with multiple sclerosis indicates a genetic contribution,” was published in the journal Neurology, Neuroimmunology and Neuroinflammation.
The risk of developing MS is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. A meta-analysis with twins revealed that environmental factors can influence 21% of the risk for MS, with the major factor being infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV, a common form of the herpes virus).
Moreover, heritable genetic traits influence the production of antibodies (also called immunoglobulins or Ig) against antigens (proteins that trigger an immune response) of EBV.
One such antibody type, called IgG, is directed against the EBV nuclear antigen 1 or EBNA-1.
In the new study, researchers at Erasmus University Medical Center, in the Netherlands, measured IgG levels against EBNA-1 in blood samples of MS patients, their healthy siblings, and biologically unrelated healthy spouses who served as controls.
The team also quantified the antibody levels against the varicella zoster virus (VZV) as an additional control. VZV is an herpes virus not associated with the development of MS.
In total, researchers analyzed 301 patients with MS (mean age 46.9 years), their 198 unaffected siblings (mean age 51.7 years), and 174 unrelated healthy spouses (mean age 51.1 years).
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