in The ANRF Chronicle
Some may not realize that long after recovering from a virus, it can still be impacting their health. Sometimes this impact can have long term consequences. A team from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has shown that exposure to the common virus Epstein Barr (EBV), best known for causing mono, increases the risk of a patient developing a number of autoimmune conditions. These include lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes.
Autoimmune conditions are infamous for having complex causes. This research helps explain why, despite having the same genetic risk factor, one patient develops the autoimmune condition (in this case having had EBV triggers the condition) and another does not.
EBV highjacks one of our key immune cells, the B cells, and uses them to make copies of itself. Even after recovery, these infected B cells may still reproduce. The mutated gene that increases the genetic risk of these autoimmune conditions is close to the gene that the virus turns on to force the B cell to make copies of itself. Unfortunately, because of how genes are turned on and off the fact that the gene the virus uses and the gene that increases risk of autoimmune conditions are situated so close together means they are often switched on simultaneously. Therefore, if a patient had never been exposed to a virus like EBV, they may never have developed an autoimmune condition.
This data helps us to begin to unravel the mystery behind the complex relationships that together produce disease. Already, the team has identified a novel protein with the ability to inhibit EBV, creating a foundation for a host of new possible ways to prevent the development of autoimmune conditions.