A Herpes and Alzheimer’s link?

There is mounting evidence that has increasingly pointed to HSV-1 as being possibly involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Itzhaki, who has worked extensively to investigate the link, published a paper in 1991 which was the very first experimental study to link HSV1 and AD. In the paper, she noted that she discovered the viral DNA in a very high proportion of elderly people. Dr. Itzhaki also published this paper establishing a potential link between Alzheimer’s and Herpes.

Her study in 1997 showed that in AD patients, the virus, when in the brain, was associated with a genetic factor – the type 4 allele of the APOE gene, and significantly, it was found also that the same genetic factor is a risk for cold sores caused by HSV1. She published this more recent paper where she argues that the evidence is “overwhelming”. Recent studies by other researchers, include this one about a 3D human brain–like tissue model of herpes-induced Alzheimer’s disease. And this this one.

The association between Herpes and Alzheimer’s is also now a frequent topic of discussion on Alzheimer communities like this one.

This theory used to be considered fringe, but information about possible links has started to pile up in recent years. So far, it has not been proven that HSV-1 causes Alzheimer’s, but the various studies have demonstrated a “strong link”.

Because of such recent research results demonstrating a “strong link”, the National Institute of Aging at NIH in 2019 announced that studying the link has become a “high priority” area of research and has requested researchers to submit research proposal for possible funding.

This high priority call for research is for proposals investigating the pathogen theory of Alzheimer’s, with a focus on the role of HSV-1. It’s an area of current intense research.

In fact, Dr. Jerome at Fred Hutch Cancer Center, whose lab is working on a gene editing approach to cure Herpes Simplex Virus, has noted that they had also received an NIH grant to investigate this link. “Now, we have a grant from the NIH to work on a herpes cure—and more recently, we received a grant to actually look at the possible link between herpes infection and Alzheimer’s disease.”

There is in fact a Phase-2 study currently ongoing to try to treat early Alzheimers dementia with Valtrex at Columbia University. Results out next year.

What does a link between Herpes and Alzheimer’s mean for a cure?

This is a good news and bad news story. If Herpes is linked to Alzheimers, either as a cause in some people or as something which accelerates Alzheimers, that would be a negative for people with HSV. But if such link exists, it would be important to know that so that’s why this research is important. That is what this research will be about and we can expect to read various research results focused on this in the coming few years.

A silver lining to this is that, if the research continues to show a link with Herpes and Alzheimers, it may result in more funding for herpes research–treatment, prevention and cure research.

Herpes research has been increasingly funded in recent years. But the budget for Alzheimer’s research is many times more massive. If some of that funding is directed towards researching HSV, that would be a good thing for the 6 billion globally living with Herpes.

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