More than 30m people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia. Unfortunately, there is no cure, only drugs to ease the symptoms. However, my latest review, suggests a way to treat the disease. I found the strongest evidence yet that the herpes virus is a cause of Alzheimer’s, suggesting that effective and safe antiviral drugs might be able to treat the disease. We might even be able to vaccinate our children against it.
The virus implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1), is better known for causing cold sores. It infects most people in infancy and then remains dormant in the peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system that isn’t the brain and the spinal cord). Occasionally, if a person is stressed, the virus becomes activated and, in some people, it causes cold sores.
We discovered in 1991 that in many elderly people HSV1 is also present in the brain. And in 1997 we showed that it confers a strong risk of Alzheimer’s disease when present in the brain of people who have a specific gene known as APOE4.
The virus can become active in the brain, perhaps repeatedly, and this probably causes cumulative damage. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease is 12 times greater for APOE4 carriers who have HSV1 in the brain than for those with neither factor.
Later, we and others found that HSV1 infection of cell cultures causes beta-amyloid and abnormal tau proteins to accumulate. An accumulation of these proteins in the brain is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Source: Alzheimer’s disease: mounting evidence that herpes virus is a cause : The conversation