Mouse trials suggest mononucleosis virus may supress lupus
Lupus sufferers could tap a virus to suppress their symptoms as on-going lab research offers hope for potential new treatments options.
A recent study found that the Epstein Barr virus, associated with mononucleosis, serves as a protector against Lupus, an inflammatory autoimmune disease where they body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.
Lab mice previously injected with Lupus were given the Epstein-Barr virus to track symptoms of the disease before they developed in a series of trials headed by immunologist Dr. Roberta Pelanda of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The Epstein-Barr virus, a type of gammaherpesvirus best known as the cause of the infectious disease mononucleosis, is found dormant in 95 percent of people.
The research found that Lupus-prone mice that were injected with EBV before symptoms of Lupus developed experienced suppression of symptoms over the course of a year.
Mice who already had symptoms of the disease also experience suppression of symptoms including a decrease in lymphocytes (white blood cells) and prevention of kidney damage.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans and at least 5 million people worldwide. According to the Lupus Foundation of American, 90 percent of individuals diagnosed are female and the majority are women of color. Most people will develop Lupus between the ages of 15-44.
Pelanda, who is also an associate professor of immunology at University of Colorado School of Medicine, said this study, which is published online in "The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Future research will be focused on understanding the effects of autoimmunity.
“We’re trying to understand the genes that protect against autoimmunity,” Pelanda said. “For instance, there’s new research being done now to discover which branch of the immune system the gammaherpesvirus is blocking to cause a suppression in symptoms.”
While Pelanda’s research has added a new facet to treating the enigmatic disease, she said not to expect new medications for lupus patients right away.
“We need to understand how the virus protects against autoimmunity, then we can use it to develop preventative drugs,” Pelanda said.
In an article in "National Jewish Health," Pelanda stated that she believes the results indicated the virus affects the basic mechanisms of autoimmunity, with the "virus inhibiting the development and progression of lupus on many levels."
Mononucleosis is commonly found in teens and young adults.
Dr. Nancy MacDonald, a pediatrician with Spectrum Health Medical Group, said the virus usually starts out as a cold and develops with symptoms lasting approximately three to four weeks.
While she knows of other studies being done with the Epstein-Barr virus and its connection with autoimmune diseases, she said there still hasn’t been a way to find conclusive evidence to link the two.
“We tried to link it to Fatigue Syndrome and other autoimmune diseases to find cures but it’s been disproved,” MacDonald said. “I just don’t see it in my pediatric studies.”
Dr. Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman, a rheumatologist who specializes in treating autoimmune diseases including lupus and a professor of medicine and rheumatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said that she would like to see more information on Pelanda’s study but indicated she isn't convinced of findings as yet.
“We haven’t been able to say definitely" what sets off lupus symptoms, Ramsey-Goldman said. “Once you have lupus or the Epstein-Barr virus that cause and effect is gone.”
But Ramsey-Goldman said, although everyone is searching for one, she said she believes that there is nothing near close to a cure as yet.
“There are lots of clinical trials being done right now. However, it’s tough because in a lot of these trials sometimes the symptoms and side effects [of treatment] are worse than the disease.”