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Two years ago, a group of scientists published an editorial in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease asking the scientific and medical community to investigate a possibility that the herpes virus could contribute to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. It's a controversial topic among scientists, who have long resisted the idea that Alzheimer's might be influenced by microbes. The prevailing hypothesis is that the disease is a result of built-up substances called amyloid beta brain plaques. Now, however, it seems the call to investigate herpes has paid off - big-time.

According to research led by Dr. Joel Dudley - a geneticist and genomic scientist from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai - examinations of genetic material in 876 brains led his team to discover a pattern they hadn't expected (and weren't looking for). Viral DNA from herpes virus 6A was much more common in brains affected by Alzheimer's - as was RNA from HHV-6A and a related form of herpes, HHV-7. Even more striking was the fact that this viral genetic material seemed to interact with genes that affected one's risk of developing Alzheimer's. According to Dudley: "What I believe is that in genetically or physiological susceptible individuals, the virus is acting as an agonist of the disease."

Despite the scientific community's reluctance to accept viruses or microbes as potential risk factors for Alzheimer's, many have come forward to support the research, including Dr. John Morris, the director of the Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in St. Louis: "This definitely brings up the potential role of infection or infectious particles in the pathology of Alzheimer's. It's a very complex disease, and the answer's not going to be one thing. If viruses are a part of that, we definitely need to take a look at it."

To be clear, Dudley's research isn't saying herpes causes Alzheimer's, or that Alzheimer's disease can "spread" like the flu. Dudley describes it like this: "These viruses are probably significant players in driving the immune system in Alzheimer's. I think they're like gas on the flames of some pathology that may be immune-driven."

It's an exciting development in the field of neuroscience. Perhaps the key to unlocking a treatment for Alzheimer's disease lies in immunotherapy... And we almost missed it.