On Monday, a surprising and promising new development in autoimmune research was announced to the scientific world. An animal version of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was found to have protective properties against the development of lupus in mice prone to getting the autoimmune disease. Prior studies suggested that the opposite was true—that EBV had the potential to increase the incidence of autoimmune disorders.
Dr. Pelanda, lead author on the paper appearing online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said researchers were completely surprised by the results. “So, we redid the experiments, and the results came out the same,” he said.
As recently as 2011, EBV was seen as a risk factor for triggering autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis. Science Daily reported in 2009 that EBV had been repeatedly associated with MS and other autoimmune diseases in multiple epidemiological and serological studies over the last 40 years.
EBV, which affects up to 95 percent of the world’s population, infects most people in this country by the time they reach adulthood. Approximately 30 to 50 percent develop the acute symptoms of mononucleosis, which most commonly includes a sore throat, swollen glands, fever and fatigue. After four to six weeks, the virus goes into a dormant state, usually for life.
In 2009, Science Daily reported that studies by Francesca Aloisi and her team from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome showed how EBV remains dormant in B lymphocytes, but they can be reactivated when not properly controlled by the immune system. The studies demonstrated an unusual accumulation of EBV-infected B lymphocytes in pathological tissues in other autoimmune diseases.
“These findings reinforce the long-held view that EBV might be involved in several autoimmune diseases and represent a step forward in the effort to understand the mechanisms underlying the development of autoimmunity,” said Aloisi. “One of the main challenges for the future will be to understand whether preventing or counteracting EBV infection will have a beneficial impact on autoimmune diseases.”
Six years ago, I was a throbbing ball of fire, with daily crippling migraines, constant and debilitating pain in my muscles, joints and nerves, chronic sinus infections, yeast infections, the new emergence of urinary tract infections, severe fatigue unrelieved by 10-12 hours of sleep per night—if I was lucky enough to get sleep. Desperate, I made my way to a center that specialized in hard to crack medical cases like my own.
They immediately went to work testing everything under the sun: environmental allergies, food allergies, endocrine and metabolic panels, autoimmune antibodies, heavy metals, and tests for an array of bacteria and viruses. I tested positive for a reactivation of Epstein-Barr. I was quickly put on anti-viral supplements, Transfer Factor (protein molecules produced by the T-cell immune cells), and later, I received several infusions that contained the antiviral glycyrrhizinate, extremely high doses of Vitamin C and other vitamins, minerals and natural herbs.
After more than six months of treatment, I finally noticed some significant improvement in my energy levels, and for a lengthy period of time, reprieve from what felt like a lifetime of chronic upper respiratory infections. While the pain and insomnia was not relieved, I felt like a whole new woman.
However, within a couple of years, I was tentatively diagnosed with lupus and another autoimmune disease after I began developing unusual symptoms I’d never had before like red rashes (mainly over the trunk of my body), sun sensitivity, an extremely painful rheumatoid nodule that was surgically removed, increasing joint pain and then, finally, a baffling movement disorder that even more than anything else I’d live with would forever change the way I could conduct my life.
In the latest studies by Dr. Pelanda and her colleagues, when mice with lupus were infected with an EBV-related virus that affects mice similarly, not only did lupus antibodies not increase, they, in fact, substantially decreased in female mice. Tissue damage in the kidneys, a key site of tissue damage for those with lupus, dropped from 80 percent to 20 percent. Autoantibody titers, lymphoid activation and other measures of lupus also diminished.
“The virus inhibits the development and progression of lupus on many levels, from cellular to humoral and organ. For that reason, we believe it is affecting a basic mechanisms of autoimmunity,” said Dr. Pelanda, according to Science Codex.
Reading this latest research, one can’t help but wonder if eradicating EBV might have kept my additional symptoms from developing in the first place, or at the least, postponed them from appearing for a longer period of time. Yet who can say for sure after the fact?
While researchers do not yet know exactly how this gammaherpesvirus suppresses lupus in mice, more experiments are planned and Pelanda believes these findings may lead to therapeutic targets for lupus and other autoimmune diseases.