Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis, may also be linked with the progression of multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disease that can cause major disability.
The researchers say that, in studies they have conducted, EBV appears to play a key role in the neurodegeneration that occurs in persons with multiple sclerosis.
"This study is one of the first to provide evidence that a viral agent may be related to the severity of MS disease process, as measured by MRI," said Dr. Robert Zivadinov, associate professor of neurology in UB's Jacobs Neurological Institute (JNI).
"A growing body of experimental evidence indicates that past infection with EBV may play a role in MS, but the relationship of EBV and the brain damage that can be seen on MRI scans had not been explored," said Zivadinov.
He revealed that the study involved 135 patients who had been diagnosed with MS at the Multiple Sclerosis Center of the University of Trieste.
He further revealed that evaluations of the MRI scans were carried out at the University of Trieste, and at the JNI's Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center (BNAC).
The researcher said that the research team measured total brain volume, as well as the decrease in grey matter, at baseline and three years later.
According to him, the group's observations suggested that higher levels of anti-EBV antibody measured at the beginning of the study were associated with an increased loss of grey matter and total brain volume over the three-year follow-up.
Zivadinov and his colleagues are presently conducted longitudinal studies in patients who experienced a condition called "clinically isolated syndrome", a first neurologic episode that lasts at least 24 hours, and is caused by inflammation/demyelination in one or more sites in the central nervous system.
If a second episode occurs, the patient is diagnosed with MS, according to the researchers.
The team will study the relationship of anti-EBV antibody levels to development of grey matter atrophy, neurocognitive function and disability progression over time.
They are also studying interactions between environment, certain genes and EBV antibodies and the association with MRI injury in MS.
The current study has been published in the online edition of the Journal of Neurology.