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Common viruses may be triggering the onset of Alzheimer's disease | New Publication

A cell study by Cairns, D., Itzhaki, R. & Kaplan, D.L. published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease looks at the potential involvement of varicella zoster virus (VSV) in Alzheimer’s disease via reactivation of quiescent herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1.

Background: Varicella zoster virus (VZV) has been implicated in Alzheimer's disease (AD), and vaccination against shingles, caused by VZV, has been found to decrease the risk of AD/dementia. VZV might reside latently in brain, and on reactivation might cause direct damage leading to AD, as proposed for herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), a virus strongly implicated in AD. Alternatively, shingles could induce neuroinflammation and thence, reactivation of HSV-1 in brain.

Objective: To investigate these possibilities by comparing the effects of VZV and HSV-1 infection of cultured cells, and the action of VZV infection on cells quiescently infected with HSV-1.

Methods: We infected human-induced neural stem cell (hiNSC) cultures with HSV-1 and/or VZV and sought the presence of AD-related phenotypes such as amyloid-β (Aβ) and P-tau accumulation, gliosis, and neuroinflammation.

Results: Cells infected with VZV did not show the main AD characteristics, Aβ and P-tau accumulation, which HSV-1 does cause, but did show gliosis and increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting that VZV's action relating to AD/dementia is indirect. Strikingly, we found that VZV infection of cells quiescently infected with HSV-1 causes reactivation of HSV-1 and consequent AD-like changes, including Aβ and P-tau accumulation.

Conclusion: Our results are consistent with the suggestion that shingles causes reactivation of HSV1 in brain and with the protective effects against AD of various vaccines, as well as the decrease in herpes labialis reported after certain types of vaccination. They support an indirect role for VZV in AD/dementia via reactivation of HSV-1 in brain.

Ruth Itzhaki is a Visiting Professorial Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and Professor Emeritus of Molecular Neurobiology, University of Manchester. 

►Further details: Potential Involvement of Varicella Zoster Virus in Alzheimer's Disease via Reactivation of Quiescent Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1J Alzheimers Dis. 2022 Jun 20. doi: 10.3233/JAD-220287. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35754275