Researchers Find Link Between Herpes Strain And Developing Multiple Sclerosis

Swedish medical researchers have discovered a likely link between a variant of the herpes virus and later development of multiple sclerosis (MS).

The study, which analyzed the blood of 8,700 multiple sclerosis patients and an additional control group of 7,200 people without MS, found that MS patients were 50 percent more likely to have a greater number of antibodies against human herpesvirus 6 (HVV-6). HVV-6 is a common strain of the virus whose variants—a and b—have been linked with eventual development of multiple sclerosis.

The researchers looked at an additional subgroup of 500 people who didn't have MS but had been exposed to herpes. The study found that exposure to HVV-6 meant that the risk of developing MS later in life was doubled. Age was also a factor, as those exposed to herpes at a young age being more likely to develop MS.

While researchers were able to link HHV-6A with future MS development in patients, they noticed that 6A was much more common in MS victims. The 6B strain is was more common in the general population.

Both HVV-6A and HVV-6B have the ability to infect brain cells, but in slightly different ways. This provided the researchers with new ways to map out the development and onset of MS in patients, which could lead toward better therapies and perhaps a cure.

Swedish researchers have found a link between the herpes virus and later development of multiple sclerosis. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

Eighty percent of children are infected with HHV-6B before they turn 2, according to researchers. The disease usually manifests in common childhood ailments like roseola. This results in many having antibodies against the virus in their bloodstream for the rest of their lives.

"This is a big breakthrough for both the MS and herpes virus research," Anna Fogdell-Hahn, an associate professor of clinical neuroscience at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and co-senior author of the study, said. "We are now able, with this new method, to find out how common these two different types of HHV-6 are, something we haven't been able to do previously."

MS is a degenerative disease that disrupts the body's nervous system, interfering with temperature regulation, speech, balance and vision, among other neurological processes. While there are no guarantees as to how one's illness will progress, the disease is currently incurable. Life expectancy of MS patients is, on average, 5-10 years lower than that of those unafflicted.

The study has been published in the November 26 issue of Frontiers in Immunology.