Doctors don't know what causes Alzheimer's disease or the best way to treat it, but they have new evidence to suggest that a common virus may play a role in who develops the condition. At the present time, however, he stressed that "the findings do not prove that the virus causes the onset or worsening of Alzheimer's disease". "Even though some of them might be at risk for dementia, other people might stay stable and some might improve, so we'd like to know what's going on in the brain that might predict that someone is going to progress to dementia versus improve", said Bendlin. That's according to a new study, which came out Thursday.
Researchers funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a part of the National Institutes of Health have made a discovery by analyzing large data sets from post-mortem brain samples of people and harnessing data from brain banks and cohort studies participating in the Accelerating Medicines Partnership - Alzheimer's Disease (AMP-AD) consortium that viral species, particularly herpesviruses may have a role in Alzheimer's disease biology.
"However, if viruses or other infections are confirmed to have roles in Alzheimer's, it may enable researchers to find new antiviral or immune therapies to treat or prevent the disease", Fargo said.
They examined the influence of each virus on specific genes and proteins in brain cells, and identified associations between specific viruses and amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and clinical dementia severity. "However, in our work, we have been able to perform more sophisticated computer analysis that has allowed us to see how the herpesvirus interacts directly in the regulation of genes known for their involvement in Alzheimer's disease", explained Joel Dudley, the study's co-author.
Despite these studies, Lennart Mucke, director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease in San Francisco, tells Belluck that, though the Dudley study is impressive, these herpes viruses could be unrelated to Alzheimer's.
Since then, the old viral hypothesis has had a new lease of life.
Dudley notes that this study could potentially translate to the identification of virus, or virus-related, biomarkers that could improve patient risk stratification and diagnosis, as well as implying novel viral targets and biological pathways that could be addressed with new preventative and therapeutic drugs.
Readhead said that there is a need for more research to determine the extent to which the viruses are involved in causing the disease. However, one controversial theory asserts that Alzheimer's may be caused by numerous viruses that affect the brain. "A similar situation arose recently in certain forms of Lou Gehrig's disease". Suzana Petanceska, PhD, who leads the AMP-AD project that supported the study, said in an NIH press release that the robust findings wouldn't have been possible without the program's open science data resources, especially the raw genomic data.
David Reynolds, chief scientific officer of Alzheimer's Research UK, said this element was significant.