AGI – Alzheimer’s disease can begin almost imperceptibly, often masked in the first few months or years by common forgetfulness in old age, and what causes the disease largely remains a mystery.
But researchers from Tufts University and the University of Oxfordusing a three-dimensional model of human tissue culture that mimics the brain, have shown that the varicella zoster virus (Vzv)which commonly causes chickenpox and shingles, can activate herpes simplex (Hsv) another common virus, to set in motion the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Normally, Hsv-1, a major variant of the virus, lies dormant within neurons of the brain, but when activated it leads to the accumulation of tau and beta amyloid proteins and loss of neuronal function, characteristics typical of patients with Alzheimer’s.
The connection between zoster virus and herpes simplex
“Our results suggest a path to Alzheimer’s disease, caused by a Vzv infection which creates inflammatory triggers that awaken Hsv in the brain – said Dana Cairns, GBS12, associate researcher with the department of biomedical engineering – while we have shown a link between the activation of Vzv and Hsv-1, it is possible that other events as well inflammatories in the brain can awaken Hsv-1 and lead to Alzheimer’s disease“.
The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. “We have worked on many established tests that Hsv has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in patients, “said David Kaplan, professor of engineering in the Stern family and chair of the biomedical engineering department at Tufts’ School of Engineering.
One of the first to hypothesize a connection between the herpes virus and the Alzheimer’s disease is Ruth Itzhaki of the University of Oxford, who collaborated with the Kaplan laboratory on this study.
How herpes is activated
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have been infected with HSV-1, the virus that causes oral herpes. In most cases it is asymptomatic, lying dormant within nerve cells.
When activated, it can cause nerve and skin inflammation, causing open sores and painful blisters. Most carriers – and according to the CDC it’s one in two Americans – will have very mild to no symptoms before the virus goes dormant.
The varicella zoster virus is also extremely common, with around 95% of people being infected before the age of 20. Many of these cases are expressed as chicken pox. Vzv, which is a form of the herpes virus, can also remain in the body, finding its way to nerve cells before going dormant.
“We know that there is a correlation between Hsv-1 and Alzheimer’s and some suggest Vzv’s involvement, but what we didn’t know is the sequence of events that viruses create to set the disease in motion – said Kaplan – we think we now have evidence of those events. “
The link between Hsv-1 and Alzheimer’s disease occurs only when Hsv-1 has been reactivated to cause sores, blisters and other painful inflammatory conditions, the expert points out.
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A study explains the connections between herpes and Alzheimer’s
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