Kissing Diseases virus linked to seven serious diseases
A far-reaching study conducted by scientists at Cincinnati Children's reports that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) -- best known for causing mononucleosis -- also increases the risks for some people of developing seven other major diseases.
Those diseases are: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes. Combined, these seven diseases affect nearly 8 million people in the U.S.
Study results published April 12 in the journal Nature Genetics. The project was led by three scientists: John Harley, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Autoimmune Genomics and Etiology (CAGE) at Cincinnati Children's and a faculty member of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center; Leah Kottyan, PhD, an immunobiology expert with CAGE; and Matthew Weirauch, PhD, a computational biologist with the center. Critical contributions were provided by Xiaoting Chen, PhD, and Mario Pujato, PhD, both also in CAGE.
The study shows that a protein produced by the Epstein-Barr virus, called EBNA2, binds to multiple locations along the human genome that are associated with these seven diseases.
Overall, the study sheds new light on how environmental factors, such as viral or bacterial infections, poor diet, pollution or other hazardous exposures, can interact with the human genetic blueprint and have disease-influencing consequences.
"Now, using genomic methods that were not available 10 years ago, it appears that components made by the virus interact with human DNA in the places where the genetic risk of disease is increased," Harley says. "And not just for lupus, but all these other diseases, too."
EBV is a strikingly common virus. In the US and other developed nations, more than 90 percent of the population becomes infected by age 20. In less-developed nations, 90 percent of people become infected by age 2. Once infected, the virus remains in people for their entire lives.
Mononucleosis, which causes weeks of extreme fatigue, is the most common illness caused by EBV. Mono was nicknamed the "kissing disease" years ago because the virus spreads primarily via contact with saliva.