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Monday, October 23rd 2006

That Sniffle Becomes More Insidious

Could a set of common viruses be contributing to age related memory loss?

Common viruses may be a cause of memory loss in the elderly, accelerating the “senior moments” that become commoner with the years.

Forgetting names, where you left your glasses, or going upstairs to fetch something and then realising you can’t remember what it was are typical examples.

They fall well short of the devastating memory loss caused by dementia. But, American researchers say, by “chipping away” at the memory for years, viruses may reduce its reserves so significantly that Alzheimer’s becomes more likely.

The family of viruses implicated in a new study by the Mayo Clinic is so widespread that preventing infection with all of them throughout life unfortunately appears impractical. They include the virus responsible for the common cold, for example.

But by reducing the acute phase of the infection, when the damage is done, memory might be preserved better and for longer, the research suggests.

I wouldn’t jump all over this study. Besides, there isn’t much to be done in terms of antiviral treatments to effectively fight these infections.

The virus killed cells in the hippocampal region of the brain, where many memory functions are centred. The more damage done, the worse the mice performed in the maze, the team reports in “Neurobiology of Disease”.

The virus used in the experiments is classified as a picornavirus, a family that includes rhinoviruses, responsible for colds, enteroviruses, which cause respiratory and gut infections, and those that cause inflammation of the brain and heart muscle, and meningitis.

It is an interesting conclusion they come to however, speculating that recurrent infections over a lifetime might slowly build up to cognitive memory loss. Kind’ve scary, every time you get a cold you’re one step closer to not remembering your first pet.

Fluffy? No. Rover? Daisy? Lassie?