Posted by: MetroCare | June 24, 2010

Could Multiple Sclerosis and Schizophrenia be Caused by a Virus?

\”The Insanity Virus\”. Discover. Douglas Fox. June 2010

This month’s issue of ‘Discover’ magazine features an article by Douglas Fox outlining research that points to a retrovirus we all carry in our genes as the catalyst to a bevy of psychological diseases as well as multiple sclerosis.  The article is titled “The Insanity Virus” if you’d like to check it out.  The link is above.

The article delves into a theory  in the scientific community that suggests certain infections in newborns and early childhood may ‘turn on’ a retrovirus found in every human’s DNA.  This retrovirus, HERV-W, once considered among other known retroviral DNA residents as do-nothings, may actually respond to these early infections by manifesting conditions like schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis in adulthood.  In a collaborative effort spanning decades, scientists from all over the globe have observed results that support this theory and offer the solution that better treatment for early infections are the way to combat these  diseases decades before they damage lives and families of patients struggling to cope.

“The Insanity Virus” article strikes me as a cutting edge theory blurring what we know about genetics and their role in certain diseases.  The findings regarding MS are much more palatable because it has always been considered a physical (neurological) disease.  With schizophrenia, I am skeptical.  If infections play a part in the expression of some genes, what other non-genetic factors, or combinations of factors, play roles in expression?  The research is amazing and well worth the read.  This is a great example of the lysogenic pathway of some viruses.

However, I see infection theory as only a piece of the puzzle.  No dissenting opinions were presented.  Likewise, there was no discussion of the possibility that environmental factors (such as a troubled home life, trauma, or prolonged stress) could exacerbate the disease process in schizophrenics, which has traditionally been viewed as a psychological disease.  The research did indicate that there was a cumulative effect with multiple infections.  The diseases became worse depending on the quantity and severity of the infections.  Due to the cumulative aspect of the theory, I am inclined to believe there is room for psychological contributors in schizophrenics.  A simpler thought is that the infection theory could be one of many pathways to schizophrenia. There is also the problem of researcher, Fuller Torrey’s, bias.  His sister, Rhoda, still struggles with schizophrenia and has lived her life in state hospitals.  The article fully discloses this background and we see how his pain and compassion for his sister drove him to this research.

I believe that we are not the sum of our genes.  Industry has made mapping the human genome a commodity.  There are fundamental missing links to how genes impact our lives.  Emotional states like stress, depression, happiness, positive interactions, and faith are known to alter our chemistry.

Wouldn’t it follow that over time, these prolonged, psychological chemical reactions could affect the way our genes are expressed?

Clinical trials using an antibody, artemisinin, on MS patients could happen as early as this year.  In mice, they have had great success stopping the process of growing brain lesions.  High hopes, prayers, and blessings to all who are suffering.  I’d love to hear your story and thoughts about the ‘Discover’ article linked here.



  1. When do you think antibody trials will be done on schizophrenics? My sister is 56 years old now. Do you think she will be considered too old?

    • Hi Heather, I wish I could tell you more about these clinical trials. My brother in law is 37 coping with schizophrenia and I understand the pain this disease can cause to the entire family. I told my mother in law about this research and she spoke to his doctor about the trials.
      Surprisingly, this doctor was well versed with the research and has assured us that he would be a good candidate. They are keeping their ears open and hoping to get involved with these trials. As soon as I hear anything, I’ll be sure to update this blog. My heart and prayers are with you, thank you for posting! I highly advise you talking to your sister’s doctor as well about this research. The doctors seem to be a great source to stay up to date.

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