A specific viral cause of multiple sclerosis: one virus, one disease

Ann Neurol. 2007 Jun;61(6):514-23. doi: 10.1002/ana.21116.


"Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease," is heard so often that it is widely accepted as fact by the current generation of students and physicians. Yet, although it is undisputed that multiple sclerosis (MS) is immune mediated, an autoimmune mechanism remains unproven. Immune-mediated tissue damage can also result from viral infections in which the host immune response is directed to viral rather than self proteins, or as a consequence of nonspecific or bystander immune responses that change the local cytokine environment. Increasing evidence suggests that poorly controlled host immune responses account for much of the tissue damage in chronic infections, and it has been postulated that a similar mechanism may underlie many chronic diseases with features suggestive of an infectious causative factor, including MS. A recent study suggesting that oligodendrocyte death accompanied by microglial activation is the primary event in new MS lesion formation, rather than lymphocyte infiltration, could change the current mindset almost exclusively focused on autoimmunity. This review presents the rationale for considering MS a single disease caused by one virus, as well as the anticipated pattern of a persistent central nervous system infection, the application of Koch's postulates to viral discovery in MS as the causative agent, and tissue culture-independent genotypic approaches to viral discovery in MS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / virology*
  • Causality
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / virology*
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology
  • Virus Diseases / immunology
  • Virus Diseases / virology*
  • Virus Latency / immunology