The role of Epstein-Barr virus infection in the pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most frequent neuroinflammatory disease. Even though there are new treatments that can slow its progression, many people with MS still end up with serious disabilities. Scientists are not completely sure what causes MS, but the recent discovery that infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a major risk factor will radically change the way researchers study MS.


The purpose of this EU funded research initiative to understand how EBV leads to MS development. Led by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and together with a team of experts from multi-disciplinary fields, BEHIND-MS aims to create a comprehensive map of how EBV and the immune system work together in people with MS. For this reason, BEHIND-MS will aim to develop completely new experimental systems that allow the study of the interactions between the virus and its host at an unprecedented level of detail.

What will the research include?

BEHIND-MS will examine the blood, brain and immune system of people with MS to understand how these interactions cause damage to nerves, especially in people who are more likely to get MS because of genetic factors. BEHIND-MS will create a model in the laboratory to understand MS better. This model will include the virus, the immune system, and brain cells that will be made from the blood of people who have MS. It’s the first time anyone is studying components together in a laboratory, with the aim of understanding the complicated molecular reasons why MS happens. BEHIND-MS will also make a special animal model that can help us understand early signs of MS. This will be a ‘game changer’ and could help in testing new treatments. All research plans will be conducted with all needed ethical approvals.

The pivotal knowledge developed in this project will empower the entire healthcare system to work towards better clinical management of MS. A detailed understanding of EBV-MS interactions, combined with newly identified biomarkers, and study models will open the doors for researchers, clinicians and industry to create new ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat MS.


  1. To determine whether the immune system is able to control infection with the EBV in the blood and brain of patients with MS.
  2. To determine whether the immune system in the blood (alive) and the brain of patients (deceased) with MS shows sign of abnormal activation and autoimmunity upon EBV infection
  3. To determine the mechanisms by which EBV infection and the immune system induce lesions in the central nervous system in an in vitro model of MS (laboratory-based)
  4. To use and further develop an animal model of prodromal MS (the phase that occurs before clinical symptoms and diagnosis of MS) to identify new pathogenic mechanisms and design new treatment approaches.
  5. To generate biomarkers to monitor EBV infection in people with MS.

Who is involved in this project?

The group of researchers and partners involved in the BEHIND-MS project include experts in various fields of virology, neurology, neurobiology, pathology, immunology, data management, and patient involvement. Professor Henri-Jacques Delecluse from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) will be leading this project. List of consortium partners (to create a link to that part of the page below)

How is EMSP involved?

As part of one of the sub-research projects, EMSP will share the relevant, unique sections of this research with its member organisations to further disseminate the reach of the research to interested people with MS. EMSP will also lead on the Communication and Dissemination Work Package to ensure that complex research notions that the research consortium partners are leading on is translated in a user-friendly manner to provide updates to people with MS, their caregivers and patient organisations. This will include, but not limited to, leading on the development of communication material such brochures and videos with project updates, updating content on the project’s website and social media platforms dedicated to people with MS and organisation livestreamed discussions to bring in together people with MS with the researchers and healthcare professionals. EMSP will also train consortium partners on effective patient engagement to ensure that this practice becomes more common among researchers.

Consortium partners

  • Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (coordinator), Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen and Westfaelische Wilhelms-Universitaet Muenster – Germany
  • Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Universita degli Studi di Milano, National Institute of Molecular Genetics, Universita degli Studi di Verona – Italy
  • Erasmus Universitair Medisch Centrum – The Netherlands
  • Universitat Zurich – Switzerland
  • Fundacio Hospital Universitari Vall D’hebron – Spain
  • European Multiple Sclerosis Platform – Belgium


EU flag and text - funded by the European Union

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Actions under grant no. 101137235 (BEHIND-MS).

Duration: The project starts December 2023 and will end by November 2028.

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