Are Herpes Viruses Responsible For Alzheimer's Disease?

A nurse holds the hands of a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease in eastern France in this September 2009 file

Further research is needed to understand why Alzheimer's disease patients have more of the herpes viruses in their brains, and if these viruses even play a part in the onset or progression of the disease. The researchers found higher levels of HHV-6A and HHV-7 in Alzheimer's patient brain samples compared with brains unaffected by Alzheimer's. However, scientists are divided on whether viruses are likely to be an active trigger, or whether the brains of people already on the path towards Alzheimer's are simply more vulnerable to infection. "None of them has held up after rigorous cause-effect evaluations".

Researchers believe that the results of this study could help pave way for better treatment options for the disease.

The researchers found that the 622 brains from people who had signs of Alzheimer's had twice the level of herpes virus present than the 322 from people who did not. Through a variety of computational approaches, the team uncovered a complex network of unexpected associations, linking specific viruses with different aspects of Alzheimer's biology.

The new study went farther: Researchers used computer models to check how the viral genes interacted with human genes, proteins and amyloid buildup, nearly like the viruses' social media connections, Dudley explained.

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Human herpesvirus 6A and 7 were more abundant in Alzheimer's disease samples than non-Alzheimer's.

Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's. The researchers propose that the activated viruses cause a buildup in amyloid plaques, which then triggers Alzheimer's. The combined funding support for this five-year endeavor is $185.2 million.

The research group, which included experts from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, and Arizona State University, Phoenix, originally set out to find whether drugs used to treat other diseases can be repurposed for treating Alzheimer's. The data they mined is usually discarded, but was archived instead by the National Institutes of Health in a bid to accelerate the discovery of new treatments by fostering "big data" collaborations.

The theory that viruses could contribute to the development of dementia arose in the 1950s. The study in no way suggests that Alzheimer's disease is contagious or can be passed from person to person like a virus - or that having cold sores increases a person's risk of dementia. "A similar situation arose recently in certain forms of Lou Gehrig's disease. But wherever we looked, the viruses were'shouting at us", said Ben Readhead, the study's leading author. 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.

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