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Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a non-heritable factor that associates with multiple sclerosis (MS). However its causal relationship with the disease is still unclear. The virus establishes a complex co-existence with the host that includes regulatory influences on gene expression. Hence, if EBV contributes to the pathogenesis of MS it may do so by interacting with disease predisposing genes. To verify this hypothesis we evaluated EBV nuclear antigen 2 (EBNA2, a protein that recent works by our and other groups have implicated in disease development) binding inside MS associated genomic intervals. We found that EBNA2 binding occurs within MS susceptibility sites more than expected by chance (factor of observed vs expected overlap [O/E] = 5.392-fold, p < 2.0e-05). This remains significant after controlling for multiple genomic confounders. We then asked whether this observation is significant per se or should also be viewed in the context of other disease relevant gene-environment interactions, such as those attributable to vitamin D. We therefore verified the overlap between EBNA2 genomic occupancy and vitamin D receptor (VDR) binding sites. EBNA2 shows a striking overlap with VDR binding sites (O/E = 96.16-fold, p < 2.0e-05), even after controlling for the chromatin accessibility state of shared regions (p <0.001). Furthermore, MS susceptibility regions are preferentially targeted by both EBNA2 and VDR than by EBNA2 alone (enrichment difference = 1.722-fold, p = 0.0267). Taken together, these findings demonstrate that EBV participates in the gene-environment interactions that predispose to MS.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigens, Genome, Human, Humans, Multiple Sclerosis, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Protein Binding, Protein Transport, Receptors, Calcitriol