Recent research from Tufts University and Oxford University suggests that there may be a link between Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and certain viral infections. The joint research team found that viral infections, such as the common cold sore virus, chicken pox, and shingles, may have some association with the deadly neurological disease.
The study sought to understand the link between Alzheimer’s disease and common viruses. The debilitating neural condition is characterized by the damage and death of neurons in the brain that eventually results in brain atrophy and the loss of significant brain volume.
More than 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, and a majority of those individuals (around 6.5 million) are 65 years of age and older. The disease causes memory loss, poor judgment and general cognitive decline that greatly impacts patients’ quality of life and makes it exceedingly difficult to take part in day-to-day activities.
Professor Ruth Itzhaki of Oxford began studying this link at Manchester University before partnering with Oxford University’s Institute of Population Ageing where she is now carrying out her research with Tufts University researchers.
While researchers have been able to uncover the exact cause of the condition so far, evidence points to microbial organisms, specifically the herpes simplex virus type 1 HSC-1, as a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s. Itzhaki first discovered that HSV-1 is common in the brains of older people during her research at the University of Manchester. Subsequent research indicated that when combined with certain genetic factors, the virus increased people’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the research found similarities between the features of Alzheimer’s disease and the effects of HSV-1.
Lead researcher Dana Cairns demonstrated that HSV-1 plays a major role in the development of AD by leveraging a human brain tissue model to observe the effects of the virus on human-induced neural stem cells (hiNSCs).
The study found that HSV-1 infection resulted in neuroinflammation, reduced functionality, gliosis and an increase in amyloid plaque-like formations (PLFs). These are similar to the neural changes Alzheimer’s patients’ experience as the disease progresses.
The researchers then expanded their interest to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a type of herpes virus that causes shingles and chickenpox. Their findings indicated that VZV infection resulted in the development of gliosis and upregulation of proinflammatory cytokines, suggesting that while VZV does not directly cause AD, it may be indirectly responsible by activating dormant HSV-1 DNA in the brain.
Itzhaki concluded that the group’s findings indicate that viral infections such as VZV could increase neuroinflammation and cause a chain of events that repeatedly cause damage to the brain and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
With companies such as Jupiter Wellness Inc. (NASDAQ: JUPW) working to develop formulations targeting viral infections, including cold sores, the long-term effects of these conditions could be lessened.
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