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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Researchers from Tufts University and the University of Oxford have recently identified herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) and the varicella zoster virus (VZV) as potential triggers of Alzheimer’s disease. The former is transmitted through mouth-to-mouth contact; on the other hand, the latter is commonly known as chickenpox and can be transmitted via physical contact with the mucus, saliva, or skin lesions of an infected individual.

The study was conducted with a three-dimensional human tissue culture model that mimics neural activity. It was found that both HSV-1 and VZV typically remain dormant in neurons, but the re-infection or activation of VZV may lead to parts of the brain being inflamed. This could activate HSV, causing the amyloid beta and tau proteins to accumulate in the brain. This then paves the way to the type of cognitive damage and loss of neuronal function commonly observed in Alzheimer’s disease.

As scientists have yet to pinpoint the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, the study’s significance lies in how it opens a new window to embark on this line of inquiry. The study also implies that the VZV vaccine — one that protects against shingles and chickenpox — may play an important role in lowering the risk of cognitive disorders such as dementia.

Sneha Kumar

Original Article:

Image credit: National Institute on Aging, NIH

Image licence: Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC 2.0) 

The original image has been cropped