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Researchers from Oxford’s Institute of Population Ageing, Tufts University and the University of Manchester have discovered that common viruses appear to play a role in some cases of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

3d illustration of neuronal networks

The causes of most cases of Alzheimer’s are currently unknown, but there is growing evidence to suggest microbial organisms are involved, in particular, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), the so-called cold sore virus. This virus has long been known to reside lifelong, after infection in the peripheral nervous system, usually in a dormant form, from which it can be reactivated by events such as stress and immune-mediated mechanisms.

Professor Ruth Itzhaki has been researching the potential role of HSV-1 in AD for more than 30 years, beginning at the University of Manchester, where her team discovered HSV-1 DNA is present in the human brain in a high proportion of older people - the first microbe to be detected definitively in normal human brains. The researchers later indicated that the virus, when in the brain, in combination with a specific genetic factor, confers a high risk of developing AD.

Subsequent studies revealed major links between the effects of the virus and the characteristic features of AD, and showed also that treating laboratory-grown HSV1-infected cells with antivirals protected against AD.

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website

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