Childhood viral infections that reach the brain may prime it for the development of autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, later in life — this is what a recent study that scientists conducted in mice seems to suggest.
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Could viral infections that occur during childhood ‘pave the way’ for MS later in life?
Recent research has shown that multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological autoimmune condition among young adults worldwide, with 2,221,188 prevalent cases of MS in 2016 alone.

This condition can cause problems with movement, balance, coordination, and even vision, alongside fatigue and other symptoms.

Despite the fact that MS can be debilitating, and that it affects such a large number of people worldwide, scientists are still unsure what causes it.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland are proposing a new theory that viral infections during childhood could reach the brain and render the development of an autoimmune condition more likely later in life.

The researchers support this theory through evidence from a study of mouse models of MS, and they report their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“We asked ourselves whether brain viral infections that could be contracted in early childhood were among the possible causes,” explains study co-author Doron Merkler, who is an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at UNIGE’s Faculty of Medicine.

“But these transient infections may, under certain circumstances, leave a local footprint, an inflammatory signature, in the brain,” he adds, pointing out that this “mark” might be a factor in MS.

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