While previous work had found an association between cognitive problems and viruses, this study offers temporal evidence to suggest infections may contribute to cognitive decline down the road.
Over a period of five years, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC) and Johns Hopkins University annually assessed cognitive function (attention, memory, language, and more) in 1,000 adults 65 years and older. At study entry, nonfasting blood samples were obtained and assayed for exposure to cytomegalovirus (CMV), Herpes Simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV-1, HSV-2), and Toxoplasma gondii (TOX).
The team found that baseline antibody levels for HSV-2 were significantly associated with baseline cognitive scores, while CMV, HSV-2, and TOX (though not HSV-1) were significantly associated with greater cognitive decline over the five-year period—independent of other age-related variables.
“This is important from a public health perspective, as these infections are very common and several options for prevention and treatment are available,” Mary Ganguli, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of psychiatry at UPMC, said in a press statement. “As we learn more about the role that infectious agents play in the brain, we might develop new prevention strategies for cognitive impairment.”
To read more about the potential role of infection in mental health, see the Psychiatric News article “Researchers Consider Infection as One Cause of Depression.”