Research Finds New Evidence Linking Herpes Virus And Alzheimer’s Disease

Research Finds New Evidence Linking Herpes Virus And Alzheimer’s Disease

Despite decades of research, scientists have made little progress in halting Alzheimer's disease, a form of dementia. Alzheimer's is characterised by building up of amyloid sticky plaques in the brain.

The researchers used multiple layers of genomic and proteomic data from several NIA-supported brain banks and cohort studies.

But they kept finding that Alzheimer's brains sometimes had twice the levels of viruses, particularly two types of human herpes viruses, HHV-6 and HHV-7, which are commonly associated with the childhood illness roseola.

The United States researchers believe that the Alzheimer's disease might trigger an immune cascade.

Maggie Fox at NBC reports that researchers then looked at DNA and RNA sequences collected from 622 brains afflicted with Alzheimer's and 322 disease-free brains, finding that two herpes viruses, HHV-6A and HHV-7, were more common in the brains of people who died of Alzheimer's.

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"The viral genomes were detectable in about 30% of Alzheimer's brains and virtually undetectable in the control group", said Sam Gandy, professor of neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York and a co-author of the study. But it is possible that the viruses worsen the disease's symptoms.

The viruses highlighted are not the same as those that cause cold sores, but much more common forms of herpes that almost everyone carries and which don't typically cause any problems. "I think they're like gas on the flames of some pathology that may be immune-driven".

According to the Alzheimer's Association, further research will be needed to prove whether the herpes viruses and the Alzheimer's disease actually have a connection.

"Previous studies of viruses and Alzheimer's have always been very indirect". It's also unclear whether these viruses are causing Alzheimer's or are activating to take advantage of degraded conditions in the brain. Researchers have been down this road before. But there have been many speculations and even outright claims that infections contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease. While this discovery surprised the researchers, they continued to follow the path and what they learned was that the genes were "two incredibly common and closely related herpesviruses that are known to cause childhood rashes and fevers", and they are so common that nearly everyone has them. It presents new evidence for how viruses might be involved in the degenerative disease and could help scientists develop new treatments in future. That's unlikely to be the end of the story.

Using evidence from postmortem brain tissue from the Mount Sinai Brain Bank, the research team also identified previously unknown gene networks that will both offer new testable hypotheses for understanding Alzheimer's pathology and reveal novel potential targets for new drugs that may arrest Alzheimer's disease progression, and could potentially prevent the disease if administered early enough.

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