Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias
Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias
Brain Health
Health Headlines
Medical Care
Medical Research
Memory Loss

A Link Between Some Brain Conditions and the Herpes Virus

Researchers have drawn closer to explaining the link between some neurologic condition and certain species of the herpes virus. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and cerebellar ataxia, among other neuropathies, the cerebrospinal fluid teems with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Yet, the nature of that link has remained unclear, as it has been assumed that EBV, as well as other viruses in the same sub-family, called gammaherpesviruses, cannot infect neurons.

Now, thanks to investigators from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers in this field know better. Erle S. Robertson, PhD, a professor of Microbiology and Otorhinolaryngology and Director of the Tumor Virology Training Program at the Abramson Cancer Center, and colleagues published in mBio that EBV and a related virus, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), can infect and replicate in both cultured and primary neurons.

Though by no means proving causality, those data do suggest viral infection could underlie at least some of the symptoms of those brain disorders, as well as the potential utility of antiviral drugs as a novel therapeutic strategy.

According to Robertson, several lines of evidence suggested the possibility that gammaherpesviruses could infect brain tissue. First, the viruses are enriched in the cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue of individuals with such conditions as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, individuals with a history of infectious mononucleosis caused by EBV are more likely to develop MS, while those who have never been infected with EBV are less likely to do so. Particularly tellingly, the drug acyclovir, which can inhibit EBV and related viruses, has been examined as a potential treatment for MS, with some positive, albeit inconclusive, results.

Still, says Robertson, the ability of gammaherpesviruses to infect neurons has been “controversial.” Devan Mehta, a student in Robertson’s lab, working with postdoctoral fellow Hem C. Jha, PhD, and Dennis Kolson, MD, PhD, a professor of Neurology, tested the link directly. Using genetically modified viruses that express green fluorescent protein (GFP), Mehta infected human neuroblastoma cells (neurons differentiated from cancer cells) and primary human fetal neurons, monitoring the infection over time by microscopy and protein expression.

In both cell types, infection with either EBV or KSHV resulted in the appearance of a fluorescent signal in the infected cells, as well as the appearance of key viral proteins. The media in which infected cells were grown also contained functional virus particles capable of infecting other cells, indicating a mode of infection that tears open host cells. On the other hand, treatment of infected cells with acyclovir reduced the production of virus particles.


The latest for the greatest!

Get up-to-the-moment health + wellness info
  right to your inbox, plus exclusive offers!