Colorado researchers have figured out how the most severe cases of West Nile virus lead to memory loss.
Mosquitoes spread the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms in most of those infected. But in more severe cases, people endure memory loss, difficulty learning and a lack of concentration. Last year Colorado had 101 West Nile cases and two deaths.
Researchers at CU Anschutz say the virus triggers inflammation that destroys synapses, connections in the brain that carry messages between nerve cells, says Dr. Kenneth Tyler, who co-authored the study.
"The part of this that’s potentially exciting is both that it gives us a mechanism for why is it that these things are happening, and also a series of pathways that could be targeted to reduce or prevent this," he says. The same idea may turn out to be important, based on other studies, in a wide variety of other neurologic diseases, "everything from traumatic brain injury to Alzheimer’s disease.”
The study was published in the journal Nature.