Researchers have found traces of fungus in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD), raising the question: could the disease be caused by an infectious microbe?
A Spanish research team reported in the journal Scientific Reports that they found cells and other material from “several fungal species” in the blood vessels and brain tissue of 11 deceased Alzheimer’s patients, but not in the 10 Alzheimer’s-free control patients.
To date, the main suspect in AD has been brain “plaques” caused by a build-up of sticky proteins, but trials with drugs targeting these plaques have brought back disappointing results. This new study offers another possible cause to the list.
The team reports that several fungal species were found, which “might explain the diversity observed in the evolution and severity of clinical symptoms in each AD patient.”
According to the team, a fungal cause would fit well with the characteristics of Alzheimer’s, including the slow progression of Alzheimer’s and inflammation—an immune response to infectious agents that include fungi.
Researchers point out that the fungal infection may be the result, rather than the cause of AD. Alzheimer’s patients might have a weaker immune system response; changes in diet or hygiene could also leave them more exposed.
The team urges the need for clinical trials to establish a causal effect of fungal infection of AD.
“There are at present a number of highly effective antifungal compounds with little toxicity. A combined effort from the pharmaceutical industry and clinicians is needed to design clinical trials to test the possibility that AD is caused by fungal infection,” explained the team behind the study.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting approximately 50 million people worldwide with 7.7 million new cases each year. Symptoms include disorientation, memory loss, anxiety, and aggressive behavior. There is no therapy to reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Study questions link between fungus and Alzheimer’s,” CTV News web site, last updated October 16, 2015; http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/study-questions-link-between-fungus-and-alzheimer-s-1.2612733, last accessed October 16, 2015.