Herpesvirus Abundant in Alzheimer Disease Brain, New Study Finds

The research was carried out at Waterford Institute of Technology

The research was carried out at Waterford Institute of Technology

The first clues that viruses were around "came screaming out at us", said Mount Sinai geneticist Joel Dudley, a senior author of the research published Thursday in the journal Neuron.

The researchers confirmed their findings with sequencing samples collected by other brain banks, including the Mayo Clinic in Florida and the Religious Orders Study at Rush University in Chicago, observing a persistent abundance of HHV-6A and HHV-7 among Alzheimer's disease patients in those cohorts, too.

Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer's Society, said: "The relationship between viruses and Alzheimer's disease has been an area of interest for researchers for a while, but it is still unclear if higher levels of viruses cause dementia or are caused by it".

NIH-funded study finds new evidence that viruses may play a role in Alzheimer's disease [news release].

The new study uses a network biology approach to holistically incorporate molecular, clinical and neuropathological features of AD with viral activity in the brain.

But Fargo noted that much follow-up work is needed to better understand the association uncovered by this new research.

Dudley and his colleagues stumbled across this possible viral link to Alzheimer's during an analysis meant to find ways that drugs used to treat other illnesses could be repurposed for treating the dreaded neurodegenerative disease.

"It appeared the virus was acting in the networks or biological pathways with many known Alzheimer's genes", said Dudley, director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. "HHV-6A stood out as a notable", they state, and exhibited a significant overlap between the set of host genes it collectively induced across all tissues and AD-associated genes.

More evidence for controversial theory that herpesviruses play role in Alzhiemer's disease [news release]. The constructed virus-host protein networks also suggested that herpesvirus interaction perturbed cell nucleotide pools, tRNA synthesis, and protein translation, "which suggested a picture of virally induced dysregulation of nucleotide pool metabolism, especially purine bases, consistent with several metabolomics studies in AD".

"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. "The title of the talk that I usually give is, 'I Went Looking for Drug Targets, and All I found Were These Lousy Viruses, ' " he said.

And what they found was that the herpes virus genes were interacting with genes known to increase a person's risk for Alzheimer's. Their theory posits that when enough beta amyloid plaques build up during an infection, they then trigger inflammation and other unhelpful responses, such as the creation of tau tangles that kill neurons.

Childhood viruses that infect nearly everyone and lie dormant in the body for life might be involved in Alzheimer's disease, researchers reported Thursday. Antiviral drugs could also be explored as a potential preventive treatment.

"While these findings do potentially open the door for new treatment options to explore in a disease where we've had hundreds of failed trials, they don't change anything that we know about the risk and susceptibility of Alzheimer's disease or our ability to treat it today", Gandy said. "What I believe is that in genetically or physiological susceptible individuals, the virus is acting as an agonist of the disease", Dudley says-a number of processes likely participate, with viruses being just one piece of the puzzle.

The researchers were surprised by the results of the study, he said. "We are excited about the chance to capitalize on this approach to help in the scientific understanding, treatment, and prevention of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases".

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