Herpesviruses in brain and Alzheimer's disease
Lin, W.-R., Wozniak, M. A., Cooper, R. J., Wilcock, G. K. and Itzhakil, R. F. (2002) Herpesviruses in brain and Alzheimer's disease. The Journal of Pathology, 197 (3). pp. 395-402. ISSN 0022-3417
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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/path.1127
It has been established, using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), that herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) is present in a high proportion of brains of elderly normal subjects and Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients. It was subsequently discovered that the virus confers a strong risk of AD when in brain of carriers of the type 4 allele of the apolipoprotein E gene (apoE-ε4). This study has now sought, using PCR, the presence of three other herpesviruses in brain: human herpesvirus 6 (HHV6)—types A and B, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2) and cytomegalovirus (CMV). HHV6 is present in a much higher proportion of the AD than of age-matched normal brains (70% vs. 40%, p=0.003) and there is extensive overlap with the presence of HSV1 in AD brains, but HHV6, unlike HSV1, is not directly associated in AD with apoE-ε4. In 59% of the AD patients' brains harbouring HHV6, type B is present while 38% harbour both type A and type B, and 3% type A. HSV2 is present at relatively low frequency in brains of both AD patients and normals (13% and 20%), and CMV at rather higher frequencies in the two groups (36% and 35%); in neither case is the difference between the groups statistically significant. It is suggested that the striking difference in the proportion of elderly brains harbouring HSV1 and HSV2 might reflect the lower proportion of people infected with the latter, or the difference in susceptibility of the frontotemporal regions to the two viruses. In the case of HHV6, it is not possible to exclude its presence as an opportunist, but alternatively, it might enhance the damage caused by HSV1 and apoE-ε4 in AD; in some viral diseases it is associated with characteristic brain lesions and it also augments the damage caused by certain viruses in cell culture and in animals.