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Neuroscientist. 2011 Dec;17(6):659-76. doi: 10.1177/1073858411386615.

Viruses and multiple sclerosis.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic demyelinating disorder of unknown etiology, possibly caused by a virus or virus-triggered immunopathology. The virus might reactivate after years of latency and lyse oligodendrocytes, as in progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or initiate immunopathological demyelination, as in animals infected with Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus or coronaviruses. The argument for a viral cause of MS is supported by epidemiological analyses and studies of MS in identical twins, indicating that disease is acquired. However, the most important evidence is the presence of bands of oligoclonal IgG (OCBs) in MS brain and CSF that persist throughout the lifetime of the patient. OCBs are found almost exclusively in infectious CNS disorders, and antigenic targets of OCBs represent the agent that causes disease. Here, the authors review past attempts to identify an infectious agent in MS brain cells and discuss the promise of using recombinant antibodies generated from clonally expanded plasma cells in brain and CSF to identify disease-relevant antigens. They show how this strategy has been used successfully to analyze antigen specificity in subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a chronic encephalitis caused by measles virus, and in neuromyelitis optica, a chronic autoimmune demyelinating disease produced by antibodies directed against the aquaporin-4 water channel.

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