Published: Mon, June 25, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

Herpes viruses common in brains with Alzheimer’s disease

Herpes viruses common in brains with Alzheimer’s disease

The research team created computer models that mapped the genes that were disrupted or activated during the progression of Alzheimer's.

"I don't think we can answer whether herpes viruses are a primary cause of Alzheimer's disease", said Dudley. Scientists have discovered that two highly common herpes viruses tend to be present in an "increased" way in the brains of people who suffered from Alzheimer's, according to a study published Thursday in Neuron of almost 1,000 postmortem brains. These viruses often have no symptoms, infect many people in their childhood and will stay dormant in the human body. Scientists, however, state that it cannot yet be said with certainty that, in fact, herpes can cause or exacerbate the now incurable neurodegenerative disease. The study titled, "Multiscale Analysis of Independent Alzheimer's Cohorts Finds Disruption of Molecular, Genetic, and Clinical Networks by Human Herpesvirus" appeared in the latest issue of the journal Neuron, this Thursday.

The scientists did not set out to look for a link between viruses and dementia.

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Mount Sinai geneticist Joel Dudley and senior author of the study said that the clues "came screaming out at us". They discovered that the virus genes interacted with those genes in the brains cells responsible for increasing a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's. Other Mount Sinai authors include Vahram Haroutounian, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobiology and Director of the NeuroBioBank; Mary Sano, PhD, Director of Alzheimer's Disease Research; Noam Beckmann, PhD candidate; Eric Schadt, PhD, Dean for Precision Medicine and Professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences; and Michelle Ehrlich, MD, Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences. But until recently, it was only a theory, not confirmed by evidence.

Tanzi explains that having a herpes virus "does not mean you're going to get Alzheimer's".

"This is the most compelling evidence ever presented that points to a viral contribution to the cause or progression of Alzheimer's", said study co-author Dr. Sam Gandy, a professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai in NY.

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But it seems most of the other researchers who are working on Alzheimer's aren't sure what to make of this discovery.

"Previous studies of viruses and Alzheimer's have always been very indirect". Researchers have been down this road before. "None of them has held up after rigorous cause-effect evaluations". But there have been many speculations and even outright claims that infections contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The idea that Alzheimer's disease may be linked to viruses is not particularly new, but this theory has remained rather controversial. That's unlikely to be the end of the story.

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"The study provides new evidence that 'innate immune function somehow has a role in Alzheimer's, ' which could help researchers learn how to detect it earlier and treat it", according to Popular Science.

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