11:19am Saturday 18 January 2020

Alzheimer’s disease and HIV link

Researchers believe that the early onset of Alzheimer’s may be linked to the release of a specific protein from HIV.

Previous studies demonstrated that people with HIV show neurological decline a decade earlier than people without the virus.

Professor Mark Slevin, head of genetics, cell and molecular biology in the School of Healthcare Science, is working on the project with fellow MMU researchers and colleagues in Italy.

‘Likely cause’

“It’s potentially really interesting,” said Prof Slevin. “But we have to prove that the protein is the cause of the disease process.

“It’s the release of a protein called p17 from the HIV envelope and it has been identified in neurones, blood vessel and the brain. There is a reasonable amount of evidence that suggests p17 and its variants contribute to significant neurological decline in patients.

“We have seen in tests with mice that the proteins bind to neurones in the hippocampus and the blood vessels, and they develop cognitive decline.

“It’s now likely that most of the causes of early onset Alzheimer’s disease in HIV patients are down to this protein.”

Future applications?

Researchers are now looking at why p17 is an ‘active protein’ with potential benefits for patients. Prof Slevin hopes it can become a ‘useful biomarker’ used to measure a biological state or condition.

The proteins and its variants could then indicate what type of therapy a patient needs, it could be removed altogether or provide an indication of the risk of developing early onset Alzheimer’s in HIV patients.

The original work was published in several journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading university for the professions and a powerful driver of the North West economy.

The University educates and trains large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals. It enjoys an excellent reputation for teaching and applied research and is a recognised innovator in partnership working with its local communities. The University is currently investing almost £300 million in its estate and facilities.

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