January 20, 2019

Herpes Virus May Play Role in Alzheimer's Disease

23 June 2018, 02:44 | Randall Craig

GETTY ImagesDementia The supplements contain compounds from common foods

GETTY ImagesDementia The supplements contain compounds from common foods

"Alzheimer's disease is the largest public health crisis we face and drug companies have so far fallen at every hurdle in finding a solution". NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. The research doesn't prove anything just yet, but it's an interesting theory and one that many experts have been talking about for some time. And the two viruses they found to be most strongly associated with Alzheimer's, HHV-6A and HHV-7, were not as abundant in the brains of those with other neurodegenerative disorders.

The quest to understand what causes Alzheimer's disease-and to treat it-is complicated by the disease's long, slow progression and the difficulty of collecting brain tissue samples.

The study, headed by a team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found increased levels of the two Roseoloviruses, human herpesvirus 6A (HHV-6A) and human herpesvirus 7 (HHV7), interacting with gene networks in areas of the brain that are known to be affected in AD.

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. "This is the first study to provide evidence based on multiple, large data sets that lends support to this idea". Multiscale analysis of independent Alzheimer's cohorts finds disruption of molecular, genetic, and clinical networks by human herpesvirus [published online June 21, 2018]. Dudley is a member of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center.

In this study, researchers initially performed RNA sequencing on more than 600 samples of postmortem tissue of people with and without Alzheimer's, looking to quantify which genes were present in the brain and whether any were associated with the development of the disease.

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. Identifying links to viruses may help researchers learn more about the complicated biological interactions involved in Alzheimer's, and potentially lead to new treatment strategies.

"We didn't go looking for viruses, but viruses sort of screamed out at us", said lead author Ben Readhead, of Arizona State University. "We were able to use a range of network biology approaches to tease apart how these viruses may be interacting with human genes we know are relevant to Alzheimer's".

"What we found was that the most dysregulated sequences were not from the brain itself, but from the genomes of HHV-6A and HHV-7", he added. "This is is also consistent with the contribution of viral perturbation in driving the preclinical AD transcriptional phenotype, given that our prioritization of miR-155 was informed by findings in the preclinical AD networks".

The researchers believe that their findings align 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-the culprit behind the plaques that build up in the Alzheimer's-affected brain-may accumulate as part of a defense against infections.

Even so, the study offers strong evidence that viral infections can influence the course of Alzheimer's, Hodes says.

Yet even if viruses only abet disease progress, that realization could open the door to better ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's.

"What this does is further strengthens the emerging theme that DNA immune system plays a role in Alzheimer's and why that gives us hope is that it will reveal a whole set of new potential drug targets for Alzeimer's and perhaps borrow a lot of the tools and drugs from immunology for Alzheimer's disease", said study's senior author Dr. Joel Dudley, director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School.

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