Dr. Roberto Alfonso Discusses His Work on EBV and MS

Friday, March 25, 2022

Tisch MS Research Center News

Epstein-Barr Virus and Multiple Sclerosis

from Healing MS Spring 2022

Two high-impact papers were published at the beginning of this year that focused on the involvement of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in multiple sclerosis. For our February 11th Journal Club at Tisch MSRCNY, research assistants (Joyce and Grant) presented the data included in both papers which was followed by a general discussion about the research implications derived from the studies.

EBV is a very common lymphotropic herpesvirus (around 90% of the population are believed to be infected) and its link with MS as a causative agent has been suggested for many years. No clear evidence of the virus directly causing MS or the nature of the mechanism involved has been determined. The two published papers add additional evidence of the universality of EBV infection in persons with multiple sclerosis (Bjornevik, Cortese et al. 2022), and suggest a mechanism of action through virus-host protein mimicry and antibody cross reactivity (Lanz, Brewer et al. 2022). If EBV is proven to be the cause of MS, potential therapeutics like the use of antivirals or vaccines against this virus could be important for blocking disease.

Dr. Roberto Alfonso's group at Tisch MSRCNY is working to understand the role of EBV in the development of MS and its contribution to immune dysregulation. One focus of the research specifically aims to understand whether a direct interaction between EBV and the central nervous system (CNS) is taking place in the context of MS, and whether this could contribute to the inflammation observed during disease. The main target of EBV are B-cells in the periphery, however, how this interaction might translate into pathogenesis in the CNS remains a mystery. The group’s preliminary results have uncovered, by means of in vitro experimentation, a possible link between EBV and the CNS that is mediated through the initial interaction of the virus with peripheral B-lymphocytes. Dr. Alfonso’s group is now trying to better characterize this interaction and to find evidence of its occurrence in vivo.


Bjornevik, K., et al. (2022). "Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus-associated with multiple sclerosis." Science 375(6578): 296-301.

Lanz, T. V., et al. (2022). "Clonally expanded B cells in multiple sclerosis bind EBV EBNA1 and GlialCAM." Nature.

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