Association of human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) with multiple sclerosis: increased IgM response to HHV-6 early antigen and detection of serum HHV-6 DNA

Nat Med. 1997 Dec;3(12):1394-7. doi: 10.1038/nm1297-1394.


Viruses have long been suggested to be involved in the etiology of multiple sclerosis (MS). This suggestion is based on (1) epidemiological evidence of childhood exposure to infectious agents and increase in disease exacerbations with viral infection; (2) geographic association of disease susceptibility with evidence of MS clustering; (3) evidence that migration to and from high-risk areas influences the likelihood of developing MS; (4) abnormal immune responses to a variety of viruses; and (5) analogy with animal models and other human diseases in which viruses can cause diseases with long incubation periods, a relapsing-remitting course, and demyelination. Many of these studies involve the demonstration of increased antibody titers to a particular virus, whereas some describe isolation of virus from MS material. However, no virus to date has been definitively associated with this disease. Recently, human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), a newly described beta-herpes virus that shares homology with cytomegalovirus (CMV), has been reported to be present in active MS plaques. In order to extend these observations, we have demonstrated increased IgM serum antibody responses to HHV-6 early antigen (p41/38) in patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), compared with patients with chronic progressive MS (CPMS), patients with other neurologic disease (OND), patients with other autoimmune disease (OID), and normal controls. Given the ubiquitous nature of this virus and the challenging precedent of correlating antiviral antibodies with disease association, these antibody studies have been supported by the detection of HHV-6 DNA from samples of MS serum as a marker of active viral infection.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Viral / immunology
  • DNA, Viral / blood*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / immunology
  • Hepatitis Antibodies / blood*
  • Hepatitis Antibodies / immunology
  • Herpesviridae Infections / complications*
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / isolation & purification
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood
  • Multiple Sclerosis / blood
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / virology*
  • Viral Proteins / immunology


  • Antigens, Viral
  • DNA, Viral
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Hepatitis Antibodies
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Viral Proteins
  • p41 protein, Human herpesvirus 6