Does herpes cause Alzheimer's?

ScienceDaily | 10/19/2018 | Staff
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Herpes viruses are the dreaded 'gift that keeps on giving'. They remain lifelong in our neurons and immune cells, reactivating and resurfacing in characteristic blisters when we're run down by stress or illness. Most people are infected by Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) by the time they reach old age.

But what happens to infected neurons in our brain during this reactivation?

HSV1 - % - Alzheimer - Disease - Cases

"HSV1 could account for 50% or more of Alzheimer's disease cases," says Professor Itzhaki, who has spent over 25 years at the University of Manchester investigating a potential link.

HSV1 is better known as the cause of cold sores. Itzhaki has shown previously that cold sores occur more frequently in carriers of APOE-ε4 -- a gene variant that confers increased risk of Alzheimer's.

Theory - APOE-ε4 - Carriers - Reactivation - Brain

"Our theory is that in APOE-ε4 carriers, reactivation is more frequent or more harmful in HSV1-infected brain cells, which as a result accumulate damage that culminates in development of Alzheimer's."

Few countries collect the population data required to test this theory -- for example, to find out whether antiviral treatments reduce dementia risk.

Taiwan - Researchers - % - Population - National

In Taiwan however, researchers have done just that. There, 99.9% of the population is enrolled in a National Health Insurance Research Database, which is being extensively mined for information on microbial infections and disease. In 2017-2018 three studies were published describing Taiwanese data on the development of senile dementia -- of which Alzheimer's is the main cause -- and the treatment of patients with marked overt signs of infection with HSV or varicella zoster virus (VZV, the chickenpox virus).

"The striking results include evidence...
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