Published: Sat, June 23, 2018
Medicine | By Melba Vasquez

Researchers Find Herpes Viruses In Brains Marked By Alzheimer's Disease

Researchers Find Herpes Viruses In Brains Marked By Alzheimer's Disease

It focuses on raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans. They then found evidence that the viruses influence the behaviour of genes involved in Alzheimer's.

Joel Dudley, director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the paper's senior author, said the study could potentially translate to the identification of virus, or virus-related, biomarkers that could improve patient risk stratification and diagnosis.

But the findings mean little - yet - for efforts to find a cure.

"The hypothesis that viruses play a part in brain disease is not new, but this is the first study to provide strong evidence based on unbiased approaches and large data sets that lends support to this line of inquiry", Dr. Richard J. Hodes, the National Institute on Aging director, said in a press release by the National Institutes of Health, the parent agency. "Whether such findings represent a causal contribution, or reflect opportunistic passengers of neurodegeneration, is also hard to resolve". HHV-7 infects more than 80 percent of infants, often causing a rash.

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About AMP-AD: The Accelerating Medicines Partnership is a joint venture among the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, 12 biopharmaceutical and life science companies and 13 non-profit organizations, managed by the Foundation for the NIH, to identify and validate promising biological targets of disease. They confirmed the finding by analyzing data from a consortium of brain banks.

The researchers used multiple layers of genomic and proteomic data from several NIA-supported brain banks and cohort studies. Dudley has met researchers at conferences who have confided in him that they have also collected data implicating pathogens in the disease but that they have been too scared to publish-for fear that they will be ostracized by the Alzheimer's community.

Researchers have been attempting to identify links to viruses and, ultimately, new treatment strategies.

That wasn't unusual. Since 1980, other researchers have linked a variety of bacteria and viruses, including another type of herpes that causes cold sores, to an increased risk of Alzheimer's.

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Dr Riona Murray said: "Given our growing and ageing population and, importantly, that we live in a time when the nutritional value of foods continues to decline, I believe this is a valuable discovery that will challenge perceptions worldwide about the role of nutrition on brain function". And the new study suggests at least two. Rather, the findings show viral DNA sequences and activation of biological networks-the interrelated systems of DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolites-may interact with molecular, genetic and clinical aspects of Alzheimer's. "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. In their study, they found that herpesviruses were involved in networks that regulate amyloid precursor proteins.

They found that Alzheimer's biology is likely impacted by a complex group of viral and host genetic factors. "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".

The networks described suggest that the characteristic features of AD may arise as collateral damage that is caused in response to a viral assault.

They found that human herpesvirus 6A and 7 were up to twice as abundant in Alzheimer's disease samples than non-Alzheimer's ones. But "more research is needed to discover exactly what roles, if any, they play". "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".

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Cambridge University academic Dr Alan Howard - who pioneered the study - said: "This represents one of the most important medical advancements of the century".

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