Virus demyelination

John K Fazakerley, Robert Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A number of viruses can initiate central nervous system (CNS) diseases that include demyelination as a major feature of neuropathology. In humans, the most prominent demyelinating diseases are progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, caused by JC papovirus destruction of oligodendrocytes, and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, an invariably fatal childhood disease caused by persistent measles virus. The most common neurological disease of young adults in the developed world, multiple sclerosis, is also characterized by lesions of inflammatory demyelination; however, the etiology of this disease remains an enigma. A viral etiology is possible, because most demyelinating diseases of known etiology in both man and animals are viral. Understanding of the pathogenesis of virus-induced demyelination derives for the most part from the study of animal models. Studies with neurotropic strains of mouse hepatitis virus, Theiler's virus, and Semliki Forest virus have been at the forefront of this research. These models demonstrate how viruses enter the brain, spread, persist, and interact with immune responses. Common features are an ability to infect and persist in glial cells, generation of predominantly CD8(+) responses, which control and clear the early phase of virus replication but which fail to eradicate the infection, and lesions of inflammatory demyelination. In most cases demyelination is to a limited extent the result of direct virus destruction of oligodendrocytes, but for the most part is the consequence of immune and inflammatory responses. These models illustrate the roles of age and genetic susceptibility and establish the concept that persistent CNS infection can lead to the generation of CNS autoimmune responses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-64
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of NeuroVirology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2003


  • Animals
  • Demyelinating Diseases
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Virus Diseases


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