Epstein-Barr Virus-Specific CD8 T Cells Selectively Infiltrate the Brain in Multiple Sclerosis and Interact Locally with Virus-Infected Cells: Clue for a Virus-Driven Immunopathological Mechanism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous herpesvirus strongly associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS). However, the mechanisms linking EBV infection to MS pathology are uncertain. Neuropathological and immunological studies suggest that a persistent EBV infection in the CNS can stimulate a CD8 T-cell response aimed at clearing the virus but inadvertently causing CNS injury. Inasmuch as in situ demonstration of EBV-specific CD8 T cells and their effector function is missing, we searched for EBV-specific CD8 T cells in MS brain tissue using the pentamer technique. Postmortem brain samples from 12 donors with progressive MS and known HLA class I genotype were analyzed. Brain sections were stained with HLA-matched pentamers coupled with immunogenic peptides from EBV-encoded proteins, control virus (cytomegalovirus and influenza A virus) proteins, and myelin basic protein. CD8 T cells recognizing proteins expressed in the latent and lytic phases of the EBV life cycle were visualized in white matter lesions and/or meninges of 11/12 MS donors. The fraction (median value) of CD8 T cells recognizing individual EBV epitopes ranged from 0.5 to 2.5% of CNS-infiltrating CD8 T cells. Cytomegalovirus-specific CD8 T cells were detected at a lower frequency (≤0.3%) in brain sections from 4/12 MS donors. CNS-infiltrating EBV-specific CD8 T cells were CD107a positive, suggesting a cytotoxic phenotype, and stuck to EBV-infected cells. Together with local EBV dysregulation, selective enrichment of EBV-specific CD8 T cells in the MS brain supports the notion that skewed immune responses toward EBV contribute to inflammation causing CNS injury.IMPORTANCE EBV establishes a lifelong and asymptomatic infection in most individuals and more rarely causes infectious mononucleosis and malignancies, like lymphomas. The virus is also strongly associated with MS, a chronic neuroinflammatory disease with unknown etiology. Infectious mononucleosis increases the risk of developing MS, and immune reactivity toward EBV is higher in persons with MS, indicating inadequate control of the virus. Previous studies have suggested that persistent EBV infection in the CNS stimulates an immunopathological response, causing bystander neural cell damage. To verify this, we need to identify the immune culprits responsible for the detrimental antiviral response in the CNS. In this study, we analyzed postmortem brains donated by persons with MS and show that CD8 cytotoxic T cells recognizing EBV enter the brain and interact locally with the virus-infected cells. This antiviral CD8 T cell-mediated immune response likely contributes to MS pathology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 15 2019


  • Adult
  • Brain/virology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes/immunology
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections/immunology
  • Female
  • Genes, MHC Class I
  • HLA-B Antigens
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human/immunology
  • Humans
  • Infectious Mononucleosis
  • Influenza A virus/immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis/immunology


Dive into the research topics of 'Epstein-Barr Virus-Specific CD8 T Cells Selectively Infiltrate the Brain in Multiple Sclerosis and Interact Locally with Virus-Infected Cells: Clue for a Virus-Driven Immunopathological Mechanism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this