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Epstein–Barr virus and rheumatoid arthritis: is there a link?

Karen H Costenbader* and Elizabeth W Karlson

Author Affiliations

Brigham and Women's Hospital, Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8:204  doi:10.1186/ar1893

Published: 16 January 2006


Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease characterized by chronic, destructive, debilitating arthritis. Its etiology is unknown; it is presumed that environmental factors trigger development in the genetically predisposed. Epstein–Barr virus, a nearly ubiquitous virus in the human population, has generated great interest as a potential trigger. This virus stimulates polyclonal lymphocyte expansion and persists within B lymphocytes for the host's life, inhibited from reactivating by the immune response. In latent and replicating forms, it has immunomodulating actions that could play a role in the development of this autoimmune disease. The evidence linking Epstein–Barr virus and rheumatoid arthritis is reviewed.