A possible link between the Epstein-Barr virus infection and autoimmune thyroid disorders

Cent Eur J Immunol. 2016;41(3):297-301. doi: 10.5114/ceji.2016.63130. Epub 2016 Oct 25.


The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), also known as human herpesvirus 4, is a member of the Herpesviridae virus family. EBV infection can cause infectious mononucleosis (IM) in the lytic phase of EBV's life cycle. Past EBV infection is associated with lymphomas, and may also result in certain allergic and autoimmune diseases. Although potential mechanisms of autoimmune diseases have not been clearly elucidated, both genetic and environmental factors, such as infectious agents, are considered to be responsible for their development. In addition, EBV modifies the host immune response. The worldwide prevalence of autoimmune diseases shows how common this pathogen is. Normally, the virus stays in the body and remains dormant throughout life. However, this is not always the case, and a serious EBV-related illness may develop later in life. This explains the chronic course of autoimmune diseases that is often accompanied by exacerbations of symptoms. Based on the present studies, EBV infection can cause autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Sjögren's syndrome, and autoimmune hepatitis. The EBV has also been reported in patients with autoimmune thyroid disorders. Although EBV is not the only agent responsible for the development of autoimmune thyroid diseases, it can be considered a contributory factor.

Keywords: Epstein-Barr virus; autoimmune thyroid disorders; autoimmunity.

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