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  • Updated 11.11.2023
  • Released 01.27.1999
  • Expires For CME 11.11.2026

Epstein-Barr virus infections of the nervous system



Epstein-Barr virus is a ubiquitous herpes virus that causes infectious mononucleosis. Neurologic complications due to acute Epstein-Barr virus infection include acute encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia, cranial nerve palsies, and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Studies also show a high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus seropositivity among patients with multiple sclerosis.

Key points

• Epstein-Barr virus is a herpes virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.

• Neurologic symptoms can be seen with infectious and postinfectious complications of Epstein-Barr virus infection.

• The role of Epstein-Barr virus infection in multiple sclerosis is an area of intense research, but a causal relationship has not been definitively demonstrated.

Historical note and terminology

Discovered in 1964 from lymphoma cells of the jaw, Epstein-Barr virus has since been implicated in a variety of disease processes, both benign and malignant (16). The virus was discovered by Anthony Epstein, Yvonne Barr, and colleagues upon studying lymphoma from the jaw of central African children, which was found by surgeon Denis Burkitt (08). Epstein-Barr virus was the first virus discovered that was associated with cancer (31), and years later, Epstein-Barr virus was identified as the cause of infectious mononucleosis, also known as glandular fever (20). The virus belongs to the herpesviridae family, and the origin of the word herpes comes from the Latin word herpein, which means literally to creep, move slowly. It is one of the most common viruses among humans. It is implicated in a variety of diseases such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma, hairy cell leukoplakia, Burkitt lymphoma, lymphomas in the immunocompromised, and primary CNS lymphomas. The following discussion will concentrate on neurologic manifestations of Epstein-Barr virus infection.

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