Study: Epstein-Barr Virus Infection Linked with Multiple Sclerosis


The findings highlight the role of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in multiple sclerosis pathogenesis and support therapies targeting EBV-infected immune cells.

A new study links Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection with multiple sclerosis (MS), confirming evidence from previous studies and providing support for targeting EBV-infected immune cells associated with chronic MS lesions as a potential treatment.

In the study, which was published in Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation, the researchers analyzed autopsied brain samples from an MS brain tissue bank and from healthy, non-MS samples. After analyzing for EBV presence, the researchers found signs of EBV latent membrane protein 1 (LMP-1) in 93% of MS brain samples, and in 78% of healthy, non-MS brain samples. There was a greater percentage of MS brains containing CD138+ plasma cells and LMP-1 rich populations.

EBV early lytic protein was also seen in 46% of MS brains, primarily in association with chronic lesions, and 44% of non-MS brain tissue.

Additionally, the researchers noted that 85% of MS brain samples contained a higher percentage of B-cells positive for EBV-encoded RNA, but almost none of these cells were present in brain samples from the control group.

“We observed that EBV is present in both MS and control brains, with EBV-infected B cells and plasma cells more prevalent and localized to MS brain lesions in the parenchyma,” Chris Haqq, MD, PhD, executive vice president of Research and Development and chief scientific officer of Atara Biotherapeutics, said in a press release. “By contrast, EBV-infected B cells and plasma cells in non-MS brains were shown to be localized to vascular tissues.”

Atara is currently developing 2 therapies, ATA188 and ATA190, designed to precisely recognize and eliminate EBV-infected B-cells and plasma cells in the central nervous system that may incite autoimmune responses and MS pathophysiology. Previous studies have suggested that the treatments may lead to clinical improvements in MS symptoms and early-phase clinical trials are ongoing.

“These findings advance the understanding of EBV’s potential role in MS pathogenesis and provide support for targeting EBV-infected immune cells associated with chronic MS lesions as a potential treatment for this severe autoimmune disorder,” Dr Haqq concluded in the press release.

Specialty Pharmacy Times' new sister site, NeurologyLive, offers even more resources for pharmacists working with multiple sclerosis.


Moreno MA, Or-Geva N, Aftab BT, et al. Molecular signature of Epstein-Barr virus infection in MS brain lesions. Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation. 2018. Doi:

Atara Biotherapeutics Announces Publication of New Research Linking Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) Infection and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) [news release]. Atara’s website. Accessed June 19, 2018.

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