Temporal Relationship Between Elevation of Epstein-Barr Virus Antibody Titers and Initial Onset of Neurological Symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis

Division of Preventive Medicine, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Md, USA.
JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association (Impact Factor: 35.29). 06/2005; 293(20):2496-500. DOI: 10.1001/jama.293.20.2496
Source: PubMed


Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been associated with an increased risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), but the temporal relationship remains unclear.
To determine whether antibodies to EBV are elevated before the onset of MS.
Nested case-control study conducted among more than 3 million US military personnel with blood samples collected between 1988 and 2000 and stored in the Department of Defense Serum Repository. Cases were identified as individuals granted temporary or permanent disability because of MS. For each case (n = 83), 2 controls matched by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and dates of blood sample collection were selected. Serial samples collected before the onset of symptoms were available for 69 matched case-control sets.
Antibodies including IgA against EBV viral capsid antigen (VCA), and IgG against VCA, nuclear antigens (EBNA complex, EBNA-1, and EBNA-2), diffuse and restricted early antigens, and cytomegalovirus.
The average time between blood collection and MS onset was 4 years (range, <1-11 years). The strongest predictors of MS were serum levels of IgG antibodies to EBNA complex or EBNA-1. Among individuals who developed MS, serum antibody titers to EBNA complex were similar to those of controls before the age of 20 years (geometric mean titers: cases = 245, controls = 265), but 2- to 3-fold higher at age 25 years and older (cases = 684, controls = 282; P<.001). The risk of MS increased with these antibody titers; the relative risk (RR) in persons with EBNA complex titers of at least 1280 compared with those with titers less than 80 was 9.4 (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.5-35.4; P for trend <.001). In longitudinal analyses, a 4-fold increase in anti-EBNA complex or anti-EBNA-1 titers during the follow-up was associated with a 3-fold increase in MS risk (EBNA complex: RR , 3.0; 95% CI, 1.3-6.5; EBNA-1: RR, 3.0; 95% CI, 1.2-7.3). No association was found between cytomegalovirus antibodies and MS.
These results suggest an age-dependent relationship between EBV infection and development of MS.

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    • "Humans are the exclusive natural host for EBV which may explain why MS is unique to humans [16]. Prospective studies have shown that elevation in serum antibody titers to EBV precedes the occurrence of MS [17] [18]. Epstein–Barr viral load in the peripheral blood of healthy adults may predict the risk of MS [19], while in children who develop MS immunoreactivity to EBV, but not to other viruses, is higher than in controls [20] [21]. "
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