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Multiple sclerosis: Researchers in Vienna have found the basis for a vaccine

Multiple sclerosis: Researchers in Vienna have found the basis for a vaccine

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease in which a role is assigned to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that has not yet been clarified. In particular, it has not yet been clear why, although almost all people are infected with EBV during their lifetime, the virus causes MS only in a small number of people.

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An autoimmune reaction can be prevented

Scientists from the Center for Virology and the University Clinic of Neurology at the Medical University of Vienna have now succeeded in identifying several mechanisms that protect people from an autoimmune reaction caused by EBV, and thus potentially protect them from MS. Currently published in the specialized journal ““cell” The published study suggests possible starting points for developing a vaccine to protect against MS.

To date, the underlying cause of MS is not fully understood, but a link to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has long been suspected. In most patients who develop MS, specific immune responses against EBV can be detected, which are also directed against specific structures in the central nervous system and thus contribute to the development of MS. However, it was previously unclear why EBV infection, one of the most common and lifelong viral infections in humans, leads to MS in only a few people.

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The risk of disease varies

A research group from the Center for Virology led by Elisabeth Buchhammer-Stöckel, in collaboration with a team from the University Clinic of Neurology at the Medical University of Vienna led by Thomas Berger and Paulus Römer, has shown that the risk of developing MS is particularly high. High levels of infection in these people, as some host factors and virus variants come together.

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Specifically, investigations have revealed a significant increase in the risk of developing MS if, on the one hand, EBV-specific and autoimmune responses are strong, and on the other hand, patients are unable to efficiently control this autoimmunity.

Researchers have identified key factors in the immune system

The study authors identified a subset of “natural killer cells” of the human immune system as a potential key factor for protection against MS. “These immune responses could play a crucial role in the development of future vaccines,” says the study’s first author, Hannes Fitzen from the Center for Virology, describing new possibilities that arise from the research work regarding prevention. And also early detection of the outcome of MS.

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According to studies, the development of MS has been shown to depend on certain genetic factors and on infection with a certain type of EBV virus, which, according to laboratory experiments, leads to a significantly weakened immune response against autoreactive processes and thus contributes to the development of MS. “Analysis of EBV variants detected in these patients may be useful in identifying high-risk patients at an early stage,” says Hannes Fitzen, ahead of further studies aimed at deepening these findings.