Epstein Barr Virus Significantly Increases the Risk of Autoimmune Disorders

January 24, 2023

Summary: Autoimmune disorders are conditions when immunity starts acting against the body’s structures. What causes autoimmunity remains poorly understood. However, studies suggest that Epstein Barr Virus infection may play a significant role in autoimmunity. It appears that in those diagnosed with chronic autoimmune diseases, EBV is activated, which ultimately causes autoimmunity. Researchers have found that EBV and resulting autoimmunity even play a role in adhesive arachnoiditis.

Autoimmune disorders are complex to manage since, in these disorders body’s immunity which must protect various organs, instead starts attacking them. Therefore, such disorders are challenging to treat, as suppressing immunity is the only way to manage them. But, unfortunately, altering immune responses is still not entirely possible. This makes it difficult for the doctors to carry out treatments for migraine headache relief as well as chronic pain treatment.

Moreover, researchers want to understand the cause of autoimmune disorders. They want to understand why immunity starts behaving in this way in some people. Unfortunately, genetics cannot fully explain the risk of chronic autoimmune diseases. Researchers have long suspected that certain viruses increase the risk of autoimmune disorders and even some cancers.

Some new studies suggest that Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), a virus belonging to the herpes family, which is present in the body of most people, becomes suddenly active in some individuals for reasons poorly understood. Furthermore, this sudden EBV activation apparently causes an immune response, which also increases the risk of autoimmune disorders1.

Researchers now call this phenomenon “EBV autoimmunity.” Some experts say that it is the most significant cause of multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis and is also responsible for about 2% of all cancers.

Autoimmunity and Arachnoiditis

Adhesive arachnoiditis (AA) is long known as a severe inflammatory condition often causing chronic and even intractable pain. In this condition, cauda equina nerve roots in the spine become adhered to the arachnoid lining of the spinal canal due to inflammation, thus causing chronic pain and disability. Researchers have long suspected that this inflammation has something to do with autoimmunity, and now evidence is increasing in favor of this theory.

In a recent study, researchers reviewed the MRI data of 800 patients living with AA. When looking at their medical history, they noticed something interesting. They found that all of them had significant spinal disc issues before they developed AA.

However, more interesting was the finding that most of these people living with AA have suffered from one or another kind of autoimmune disorder like fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, migraine, burning mouth or feet, chronic fatigue, arthritis, and so on. Therefore, researchers concluded that AA in these individuals was rather a late complication of autoimmune disorder.

Since studies show that there is a relationship between EBV infection and autoimmunity, they decided to test the patients living with AA for EBV. They found that most of those diagnosed with this chronic and painful condition were positive for EBV and showed signs of the reactivation of the virus. Not only that, but they also found that AA patients had a high level of antibodies against other viruses often associated with autoimmunity like cytomegalovirus, different herpes strains, and Lyme.

Researchers say that there is no doubt that EBV plays an important role in the development of autoimmune disorders. However, their study now shows that AA is a late-stage complication of autoimmune diseases that occur due to EBV reactivation. Thus, EBV reactivation also plays a vital role in AA development. Hence, EBV antibodies must be tested in those living with AA and even in other conditions characterized by chronic pain or intractable pain. This will be particularly helpful in chronic pain treatment and migraine headache relief.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP