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Epstein-Barr virus in autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) are complex disorders with a genetic background and the involvement of environmental factors, including viruses. The Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) is a plausible candidate for playing a role in the pathophysiology of these diseases. Both SLE and RA are characterized by high titers of anti-EBV antibodies and impaired T-cell responses to EBV antigens. Compared with normal subjects, elevated EBV load in peripheral blood has been observed in SLE and RA. EBV DNA or RNA has been evidenced in target organs of RA (synovium) or pSS (salivary glands). Finally, molecular mimicry has been demonstrated between EBV proteins and self antigens in these three conditions. In addition, SLE, RA, and pSS are associated with an increased risk of lymphoma with a potential role for EBV. The influence of new and emergent treatments of these autoimmune diseases (biological therapies) on EBV load and the course of latent EBV infection requires further studies.