Fighting the Hidden Enemy: Therapeutic strategies targeting latent gammaherpesvirus infection in an autoimmune animal model of multiple sclerosis

Start Term
End Term
Funding Amount
University of British Columbia
Geographic Region(s) / Province(s)
British Columbia
Research Priorities
Cause of MS
Impact Goal(s)
Advance Treatment and Care
Prevent MS


  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a risk factor for MS.
  • This project will use a mouse model of MS to investigate various therapeutic approaches that target a mouse virus related to EBV called gammaherpesvirus, to either prevent or remove the virus.  
  • This study has the potential to reveal important insights into the processes that are involved during gammaherpesvirus infection and MS-like disease and to inform future therapeutics.


Project Description: 

The cause of MS is unknown, however it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors that trigger the disease. One such trigger is Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

What we know about EBV:

  • EBV is a member of the herpesvirus family and infects over 95% of individuals worldwide.
  • EBV infection occurs during childhood and can be asymptomatic.
  • EBV infection during adolescence or adulthood can cause infectious mononucleosis, also called mono.
  • Following exposure, EBV establishes a life-long dormant infection in a type of immune cells called B cells and is never entirely cleared by the immune system.

The link between EBV and MS was first proposed because of the overlap in cases of mono and MS. Since these first reports, many studies over the last few decades have found an association between EBV infection and the development of MS. The growing body of evidence connecting EBV as a causal factor in MS has sparked interest in the potential of using EBV targeted therapies to treat or prevent disease. Existing EBV-targeted therapies have been largely unsuccessful so far in trials, likely due to their inability to completely remove the dormant virus. Therefore, there is a need to investigate novel EBV specific therapies to further understand the mechanisms linking EBV to MS.

This study will investigate three different strategies that directly target the virus in the context of MS. They will use an animal model and a mouse virus related to EBV (called gammaherpesvirus-68 or ɣHV68). This virus has been shown to cause severe MS-like disease in mice while in its dormant state, much like EBV. Using this model, the researchers will investigate the effects of:

  1. vaccination against the virus (prevent infection)
  2. viral inhibition and elimination (eliminate the virus)
  3. create immune cells to target and kill the B cells infected with the EBV virus

Impact: This study will provide important insights on the different therapeutic strategies that could be used to target human EBV to prevent MS disease.

Project Status: In progress

This is a partnership between MS Canada and the National MS Society (US). Together, we are providing $99,739.00 USD in funding for the project. MS Canada is providing $100,000 CAD towards the project.