NIH-Funded Study Shows Viruses May Play Role in Alzheimer's

The study has found new evidence that viruses may play a role in Alzheimer's disease, the agency reported June 21. NIH said additional research is needed to determine whether their role is causative.

An NIH-funded study has found new evidence that viruses may play a role in Alzheimer's disease, the agency reported June 21. NIH said additional research is needed to determine whether their role is causative.

Analysis of large data sets from post-mortem brain samples of people with and without Alzheimer's disease has revealed new evidence that viral species, particularly herpes viruses, may have a role in Alzheimer's disease biology. Researchers funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, made the discovery by harnessing data from brain banks and cohort studies participating in the Accelerating Medicines Partnership - Alzheimer's Disease (AMP-AD) consortium. Reporting in the June 21 issue of the journal Neuron, the authors emphasized their findings do not prove that the viruses cause the onset or progression of Alzheimer's, but that viral DNA sequences and activation of biological networks — the interrelated systems of DNA, RNA, proteins, and metabolites — may interact with molecular, genetic, and clinical aspects of Alzheimer's.

"The hypothesis that viruses play a part in brain disease is not new, but this is the first study to provide strong evidence based on unbiased approaches and large data sets that lends support to this line of inquiry," said NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes. "This research reinforces the complexity of Alzheimer's disease, creates opportunities to explore Alzheimer's more thoroughly, and highlights the importance of sharing data freely and widely with the research community."

The research group included experts from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, and Arizona State University. They initially intended to find whether drugs used to treat other diseases can be repurposed for treating Alzheimer's. "They designed their study to map and compare biological networks underlying Alzheimer's disease," according to NIH. "What they found is that Alzheimer's biology is likely impacted by a complex constellation of viral and host genetic factors, adding that they identified specific testable pathways and biological networks."

"The robust findings by the Mount Sinai team would not have been possible without the open science data resources created by the AMP-AD program–particularly the availability of raw genomic data," said NIA Program Officer Suzana Petanceska, Ph.D., who leads the AMP-AD Target Discovery and Preclinical Validation Project. "This is a great example of the power of open science to accelerate discovery and replication research."

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