Even more evidence of and MS and EBV link revealed in T-cell discovery

Published: 15 September 2022

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients have significantly higher levels of T-cells that are specifically created to recognise the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) compared with healthy people, a new study has found.

This discovery adds further evidence to all the other research that has highlighted the link between EBV infection and MS.

The researchers did not find that T-cells with receptors for other specific viruses were more common in those with MS, singling out EBV as significant.

Previous studies have shown MS patients tend to have higher levels of antibodies against EBV than healthy people. B-cells make antibodies, which are immune proteins that stick to a specific target to attack it. Scientists think that structural similarities between the EBV protein and a protein found on the surface of myelin-producing cells may cause B-cells to attack people’s own healthy tissue while it tries to fight the virus.

In this study, researchers investigated whether the specialised receptors at the surface of T-cells – T-cell receptors (TCRs) – were different in people with MS. These TRCs recognise specific antigens in a similar way to how antibodies do. The binding between these receptors and their target is what activates a T-cell to attack.

The results showed people with MS had significantly higher levels of TRCs that were specifically for EBV proteins when compared to the control group.

The team tested to see if levels of TRCs for other viruses, including influenza-A (the flu) or SARS-CoV-2 (Covid) were higher in MS patients, but they were not.

The researchers also looked at the TCRs of 35 pairs of identical twins where one of them had MS and the other did not. They found those with a diagnosis had increased TRCs for EBV, even when they adjusted for known history of EBV infection. This is significant because identical twins are genetically identical and generally have similar childhood environments and experiences, said the researchers.