Could herpes play a role in Alzheimer’s disease?

Researchers from the US have used data from three different brain banks to suggest that human herpes viruses are more abundant in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s and may play a role in regulatory genetic networks that are believed to lead to the disease. Published in Neuron, the study lends support to the controversial hypothesis that viruses are involved in Alzheimer’s disease, and offers potential new paths for treatment. The researchers analysed data from three major brain banks courtesy of the National Institutes of Health’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership – Alzheimer’s Disease (AMP-AD) consortium, which allowed them to look at raw genomic data for large numbers of patients with Alzheimer’s in different cohorts. They constructed, mapped and compared regulatory gene networks on multiple levels, looking at DNA, RNA and proteins in areas of the brain known to be affected by Alzheimer’s. They found that human herpes virus DNA and RNA were more abundant in the brains of those diagnosed post mortem with Alzheimer’s disease and that abundance correlated with clinical dementia scores. The two viruses they found to be most strongly associated with Alzheimer’s, HHV-6A and HHV-7, were not as abundant in the brains of those with other neurodegenerative disorders. When they constructed networks that modeled how the viral genes and human genes interacted, they were able to show that the viral genes were regulating and being regulated by the human genes, and that genes associated with increased Alzheimer’s risk were affected.

Coffee may boost heart health in mice

A German study, published in PLoS Biology, now shows that caffeine promotes the movement of a regulatory protein into cell mitochondria, enhancing their function and protecting cardiovascular cells from damage. The researchers found that the protective effect was reached at a concentration equivalent to consumption of four cups of coffee, suggesting the effect may be physiologically relevant. The authors have previously shown that at physiologically relevant concentrations caffeine improved the functional capacity of endothelial cells, which line the interior of blood vessels, and that the effect involved mitochondria, the cell’s energy powerhouses. Here, they showed that a protein called p27, known mainly as an inhibitor of the cell cycle, was present in mitochondria in the major cell types of the heart. In these cells, mitochondrial p27 promoted migration of endothelial cells, protected heart muscle cells from cell death, and triggered the conversion of fibroblasts into cells containing contractile fibers — all crucial for repair of heart muscle after myocardial infarction. They found that caffeine induced the movement of p27 into mitochondria, setting off this beneficial chain of events, and did so at a concentration that is reached in humans by drinking four cups of coffee. Caffeine was protective against heart damage in pre-diabetic, obese mice and in aged mice.

Six out of 10 Australian packaged foods are highly or ultraprocessed

Researchers from the George Institute for Global Health have found that six out of 10 Australian packaged foods are highly or ultraprocessed, more than half are discretionary or junk foods and only one-third are healthy. Published in Nutrients, the study examined 40 664 packaged food items ranging from breads to sauces, confectionary, canned foods, oils and dairy products. They determined their Health Star Rating, whether they were core or discretionary products and the extent of their processing. They also looked at the proportion of foods meeting reformulation targets for sodium, saturated fat and sugar. Key findings: 53% of the Australian packaged food supply is comprised of discretionary products – energy dense and nutrient-poor foods such as sweetened soft drinks, cordials, flavoured waters, biscuits, chocolate, meat pies, butter and salty snacks; just 47% are considered core foods – including fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, cereal grains, lean meats, fish and dairy products – which the Australian Dietary Guidelines say should make up the majority of our diet. Of the products analysed, 38% had a Health Star Rating of 3.5 or higher, which usually indicates a basic level of healthfulness; 61% were found to be ultraprocessed, 18% moderately processed and 21% less processed foods. Almost all convenience foods (98%) – including ready-to-eat meals, pre-prepared sauces or dressings, canned or processed meats, frozen meals and desserts – fell in the ultraprocessed category.

What’s new online at the MJA

25 June Research: Absolute cardiovascular disease risk and lipid-lowering therapy among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
Calabria et al; doi: 10.5694/mja17.00897
Absolute CVD risk is high, and most of those at high risk are undertreated … OPEN ACCESS permanently.

25 June Podcast with Professor Emily Banks, professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Australian National University, and Scientific Director of the 45 and Up Study … OPEN ACCESS permanently.

25 June Ethics and law: Mandatory data breach notification requirements for medical practice
Carter and Hartridge; doi: 10.5694/mja17.00577
Mandatory notification laws bring stiff penalties for failures to meet requirements of the notification scheme … FREE ACCESS for 1 week.

25 June Podcast with Dr David Carter, lecturer in Law and member of the Law, Health and Justice Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney … OPEN ACCESS permanently.

25 June Research: Closing the vaccination coverage gap in New South Wales: the Aboriginal Immunisation Healthcare Worker Program
Hendry et al; doi: 10.5694/mja18.00063
A dedicated program significantly improved timely vaccination rates in Indigenous Australian children … OPEN ACCESS permanently.

25 June Podcast with Dr Frank Beard, public health physician at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, and senior lecturer in Public Health at the University of Sydney … OPEN ACCESS permanently.


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