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Research Links Cold Sores to Alzheimer's

Wednesday, 06 Apr 2011 12:33 PM


New research is linking common cold sores to Alzheimer’s disease, and medical experts are advising those who contract them to quickly treat them.

Scientists from labs at Brown University, the University of New Mexico, and the House Ear Institute developed a new way of observing infections of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) growing inside cells and discovered how the virus interacts with amyloid precursor protein (APP), the major component of senile plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients.

"Clinicians have seen a link between HSV1 infection and Alzheimer's disease in patients, so we wanted to investigate what might be going on in the body that would account for this," Dr. Shi-Bin Cheng of the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, says in a press release. "What we were able to see in the lab strongly suggests a causal link between HSV1 and Alzheimer's disease."

A latent form of HSV1 lives inside nerve cells. The virus infects mucous membranes, like the lips and eyes, causes the common cold sore, and generates viral particles, says Dr. Elaine Bearer of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study.

“These viral particles burst out of the cells of the mucous membrane and enter sensory nerve cells where they travel inside the nerve toward the brain,” she says in the press release. “We now can see this cellular transportation system and watch how the newly formed virus engages cellular APP on its journey out of the cell."

The interaction between APP and HSV1 showed “a mechanism by which HSV1 infection leads to Alzheimer's disease,” the statement said.

"It's no longer a matter of determining whether HSV1 is involved in cognitive decline, but rather how significant this involvement is," Bearer says. "We'll need to investigate anti-viral drugs used for acute herpes treatment to determine their ability to slow or prevent cognitive decline."

Cold sore sufferers should treat blisters as soon as possible so that the HSV1 quickly returns to dormancy, researchers advised. While there is no known cold sore cure, over-the-counter products and anti-viral drugs can help with pain, speed healing, and may prevent recurrence of the sores, which usually last about 10 days, according to WebMD.com.

The research was published in the March 31 issue of PLoS ONE, the magazine of the Public Library of Science.




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