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Approved Research

Association between neurotropic Herpes viruses and early signs of Alzheimer's disease: impact of susceptibility factors

Principal Investigator: Dr Catherine Helmer
Approved Research ID: 99119
Approval date: May 4th 2023

Lay summary

The aim of this project is to investigate the role of infections, particularly those due to Herpes viruses, in Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a devastating condition with consequences for affected people, their family and the society. Although several risk factors of Alzheimer's disease have been identified, to date its causes remain misunderstood. In the past years, results from several researches have suggested that infections, especially those related to Herpes viruses, may be involved in the occurrence of Alzheimer's disease. Herpes viruses have the ability to stay in the body in a latent stage after a first infection, and to reactivate periodically. Several studies suggested that these viruses could promote the development of Alzheimer's disease lesions in the brain.

This project will leverage the wealth of the UK Biobank data where a biological measure of infectious history against several viruses, including Herpes viruses, has been performed in about 10 000 participants. We will analyze whether a history of infection against Herpes viruses (taken separately or combined) or a high number of prior infections (considering the biological measure of all the infections) are associated with a greater risk of cognitive decline (like memory decline) or changes in the brain (thanks to Magnetic Resonance Imaging data). In addition, to fully understand which persons are most at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, we will study potential susceptibility factors, i.e. factors that could modulate the impact of Herpes viruses on the brain (such as age, genetics, factors impacting immune defenses and co-infections). Finally, among infected participants we will assess whether those taking anti-viral medications have a lower risk of cognitive decline and brain changes.

We anticipate 36 months from the reception of UK Biobank data to project completion.

This project will improve the understanding of Alzheimer's disease, by clarifying the potential impact of infectious diseases. This could open new perspectives of preventive strategies to delay or avoid the occurrence of Alzheimer's disease (including vaccines, anti-viral treatments!) and help to better target participants to be included in future trials (targeting the most at-risk participants who could beneficiate from treatments).