Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects young adults and occurs in approximately 2 promille of our population. The disease comes from a chronic inflammation which attacks the myelin sheaths on nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. Treatment (immunotherapy) partly ameliorates this inflammation.
Recent years showed a number of factors that increase the risk of MS, including vitamin D deficiency, smoking, and infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). These discoveries raised hopes that prophylactic measures against these risk factors may curb the occurrence of MS (similar to the decrease of vascular disease from widespread prophylaxis).
EBV infection holds a unique position among these risk factors as it may even be a prerequisite for the disease. In particular, EBV increases the risk of subsequent MS when it manifests as infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever), a severe throat infection occurring in the upper teens. Vaccination against infectious mononucleosis was proven to be effective but was accomplished in small groups only.
The aim of our group is to understand whether there is a causal relationship between EBV and MS. We perform long-term follow-up after infectious mononucleosis and investigate biobank material obtained before the onset of MS. We analyze this material in regards to EBV antibodies and immunological signal transducers, and endeavour to elucidate a chain of events from EBV, EBV sequelae, to early stages of MS.
In addition, the disposition for MS is genetically constrained. Our group investigates genetic factors controlling the immune defence, directly or indirectly influencing the risk of MS. We also examine the genetic background of the Guillain-Barré syndrome which is related to MS in that it attacks the myelin sheath, although with an acute limited course, making it easier for us to analyze.
We collaborate with research groups in virology, neurochemistry and genetics. Balancing exogenous risk factors, EBV infection and infection related genetics, should give us an indication on the potential for prophylaxis against MS.