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Cold Virus Might Harm Long-Term Memory

Nervous system infection by a family of pathogens may 'chip away' at cognition, researchers say

THURSDAY, Oct. 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Infection of the central nervous system by the common cold and other viruses may lead to memory loss late in life, Mayo Clinic researchers report.

"Our study suggests that virus-induced memory loss could accumulate over the lifetime of an individual and eventually lead to clinical cognitive memory deficits," neuroscientist Charles L. Howe, corresponding study author, said in a prepared statement.

In studies with mice, his team found that a nervous system infection linked to a pathogen called picornavirus could have a permanent effect on memory. The findings are published in the November issue of the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

Picornaviruses are a family of common viruses that include rhinoviruses associated with the common cold; enteroviruses, linked to respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments; encephalitis inflammation of the brain; myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle); and meningitis.

"We think picornavirus family members cross into the brain and cause a variety of brain injuries," Howe said.

It's not clear just how much brain damage a picornavirus might cause in humans, but the evidence from this mouse study indicates that it's an area that warrants further research, the team said.

"Our findings suggest that picornavirus infections throughout the lifetime of an individual may chip away at the cognitive reserve, increasing the likelihood of detectable cognitive impairments as the individual ages," the study authors wrote. "Further analysis of such deficits and exploration of potential therapeutic interventions is clearly needed," the Mayo group said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about age-related memory loss.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Oct. 23, 2006
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