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June 14, 1976

Multiple Sclerosis: Explorations of Cause

JAMA. 1976;235(24):2630. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03260500046032

In years past (possibly even now), a standard textbook of medicine would begin, "Multiple sclerosis is a disease of unknown cause characterized by..." (a brief definition of the disease would follow at this point).

Two facts about multiple sclerosis (MS) have led students of the disease to speculate about two possible causes. First, MS occurs mainly in northern latitudes, and the occasional appearance of more than one case within families suggested to some scholars that an infectious agent is basic to the disorder. This idea was strengthened by the demonstration that other demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) (Kuru, a disease endemic in New Guinea; Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease; subacute sclerosing panencephalitis; and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy) had been shown to be caused by viruses and had been placed firmly in the category of slow virus diseases.

Second, the same observations of familial groupings of MS cases and its geographic localization