Certain species of herpesviruses may play a role in Alzheimer's disease according to a study of brain samples from people with and without the disease.
Much of the research described in the new study was performed in the laboratory of Joel Dudley, associate professor of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, associate research professor in the NDRC, and senior author of the paper in Neuron.
"To date, research across the world has largely focused on studying the role of amyloid that appears in the brain of people with Alzheimer's disease".
The researchers suggested that their findings aligned with other current research in the Alzheimer's field on the role of innate immunity in the disease, particularly recent findings that beta-amyloid protein, which is the culprit behind the plaques that build up in the Alzheimer's-affected brain, might accumulate as part of a defense against infections.
They examined the influence of each virus on specific genes and proteins in brain cells, and identified associations between specific viruses and amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and clinical dementia severity.
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HAMILTON: It's not clear exactly how virus genes interact with Alzheimer's genes, but Dudley says it is clear that the same genes that make some brains more susceptible to Alzheimer's also seem to make them prone to infection with these herpes viruses. They infect almost every human, typically during infancy, and have been closely linked to the childhood rash called roseola, according to the HHV-6 Foundation.
"We saw a key virus, HHV-6A, regulating the expression of quite a few Alzheimer's risk genes and genes known to regulate the processing of amyloid, a key ingredient in Alzheimer's neuropathology".
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The nature and significance of viruses and other pathogens in the brain are now hot topics in neuroscience, though the exploration is still in its early stages. By looking at the brain, the researchers got a better idea of whether the viruses were affecting the brain.
Advocates for Alzheimer's disease and brain health are working to celebrate the longest day by turning MI purple this Thursday.
"All these Alzheimer's brains in these separate, major brain banks have previously unsuspected substantial populations of herpesvirus genomes and that deserves an explanation wherever it falls in the pathogenesis". "There are still a lot of unanswered questions around how we go from being able to detect it circulating in someone's blood to knowing whether it's active in a state that might be relevant to Alzheimer's disease", says Readhead. The data suggested that viruses directly interact with known AD risk genes.
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"This kind of analysis was only possible because the consortium had coordinated for all of these other groups to put their sequencing data in the AMP-AD Knowledge Portal in a precompetitive environment that let us very quickly replicate our work across all these different cohorts".
They found that human herpesvirus 6A and 7 were up to twice as abundant in Alzheimer's disease samples than non-Alzheimer's ones. Dudley thinks that's when the trouble starts.
About the National Institute on Aging: The NIA leads the federal government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. He says the finding is important but not conclusive.
Researchers said previous studies suggest a viral contribution but don't explain how the connection works. So the Institute on Aging is funding a study that will test this approach.
New findings from the Alzheimer's Association show that 76% of Americans expressed concern about offending family members by raising the issue. So Hodes says it might be possible to protect the brain with drugs that tweak the brain's immune system.
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