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Current and past Epstein-Barr virus infection in risk of initial CNS demyelination

Objectives: To assess risk of a first clinical diagnosis of CNS demyelination (FCD) in relation to measures of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection within the context of other known risk factors.

Methods: This was a multicenter incident case-control study. FCD cases (n = 282) aged 18–59 years and controls (n = 558, matched on age, sex, and region) were recruited from 4 Australian centers between November 1, 2003, and December 31, 2006. A nested study (n = 215 cases, n = 216 controls) included measurement of whole blood quantitative EBV DNA load and serum EBV-specific antibodies. Conditional logistic regression was used to analyze case-control differences.

Results: There were no significant case-control differences in the proportion with detectable EBV DNA (55.8% vs 50.5%, respectively, p = 0.28), or in quantitative EBV DNA load (p = 0.33). Consistent with previous work, higher anti-EBV–specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) titers and a history of infectious mononucleosis were associated with increased FCD risk and there was an additive interaction with HLA-DRB1*1501 status. We found additional interactions between high anti-EBNA IgG titer and SNPs in HLA-A (adjusted odds ratios [AOR] = 19.84 [95% confidence interval (CI) 5.95 to 66.21] for both factors compared to neither) and CTLA-4 genes (AOR = 0.31 [95% CI 0.13 to 0.76] for neither factor compared to both). EBV DNA load was lower at higher serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations in controls (r = −0.17, p = 0.01). An adverse effect of higher EBV DNA load on FCD risk was increased with higher 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration (p[interaction] = 0.02).

Conclusion: Past infection with EBV, but not current EBV DNA load in whole blood, is significantly associated with increased FCD risk. These associations appear to be modified by immune-related gene variants.