Molecular signature of Epstein-Barr virus infection in MS brain lesions

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Abstract

Objective

We sought to confirm the presence and frequency of B cells and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) (latent and lytic phase) antigens in archived MS and non-MS brain tissue by immunohistochemistry.

Methods

We quantified the type and location of B-cell subsets within active and chronic MS brain lesions in relation to viral antigen expression. The presence of EBV-infected cells was further confirmed by in situ hybridization to detect the EBV RNA transcript, EBV-encoded RNA-1 (EBER-1).

Results

We report the presence of EBV latent membrane protein 1 (LMP-1) in 93% of MS and 78% of control brains, with a greater percentage of MS brains containing CD138+ plasma cells and LMP-1–rich populations. Notably, 78% of chronic MS lesions and 33.3% of non-MS brains contained parenchymal CD138+ plasma cells. EBV early lytic protein, EBV immediate-early lytic gene (BZLF1), was also observed in 46% of MS, primarily in association with chronic lesions and 44% of non-MS brain tissue. Furthermore, 85% of MS brains revealed frequent EBER-positive cells, whereas non-MS brains seldom contained EBER-positive cells. EBV infection was detectable, by immunohistochemistry and by in situ hybridization, in both MS and non-MS brains, although latent virus was more prevalent in MS brains, while lytic virus was restricted to chronic MS lesions.

Conclusions

Together, our observations suggest an uncharacterized link between the EBV virus life cycle and MS pathogenesis.

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