Do common viruses play a role in Alzheimer’s disease?

Research we're watching

Published: September, 2018

Image: © Reptile8488/Getty Images

A new study published online June 21 by the journal Neuron links two common viruses to Alzheimer's disease. Based on data from three brain banks, researchers found that the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease had up to twice the levels of two viruses — herpesviruses 6A and 7 — compared with the brains of people who did not have dementia. The virus genes also appeared to have interacted with the human DNA in cells in the brain in ways that might have affected Alzheimer's disease risk.

Infection with these herpesviruses is very common. Up to 90% of people may be exposed to these viruses in childhood. They cause, among other things, a mild infection known as roseola, which produces a rash and a fever.

Study authors say their findings don't prove that the viruses cause Alzheimer's disease, but the discovery, if confirmed, could one day lead to a new understanding about the underlying cause of Alzheimer's disease and potentially to new treatments.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.