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Cold sore virus may contribute to cognitive and brain abnormalities in schizophrenia
Date:5/28/2010

Exposure to the common virus that causes cold sores may be partially responsible for shrinking regions of the brain and the loss of concentration skills, memory, coordinated movement and dexterity widely seen in patients with schizophrenia, according to research led by Johns Hopkins scientists.

"We're finding that some portion of cognitive impairment usually blamed solely on the disease of schizophrenia might actually be a combination of schizophrenia and prior exposure to herpes simplex virus 1 infection, which reproduces in the brain," says study leader David J. Schretlen, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The research, described in the May Schizophrenia Research, could lead to new ways to treat or prevent the cognitive impairment that typically accompanies this mental illness, including with antiviral drugs, the scientists say.

Doctors have long known that cognitive impairment, including problems with psychomotor speed, concentration, learning, and memory, are prevalent features of schizophrenia, which affects an estimated one percent of the U.S. population. Cognitive deficits often surface months to years before symptoms that are traditionally used to diagnose this disease, such as delusions or hallucinations.

Some previous studies have shown that schizophrenic patients with antibodies to herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the virus that causes cold sores, often have more severe cognitive deficits than patients without these antibodies. Other studies have shown that patients with HSV-1 antibodies have decreased brain volumes compared to patients without the antibodies. However, it has been unclear whether the cognitive deficits are directly related to the decreased brain volume.

To investigate, Schretlen and his colleagues recruited 40 schizophrenic patients from outpatient clinics at the Johns Hopkins and Sheppard Enoch Pratt hospita
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Contact: Christen Brownlee
cbrownlee@jhmi.edu
410-955-7832
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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