Alzheimer’s and COVID-19 share this thing in common

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a new study from University College London, researchers found an anti-viral gene that impacts the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and severe COVID-19.

They estimated that one genetic variant of the OAS1 gene increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by about 3-6% in the population as a whole, while related variants on the same gene increase the likelihood of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

The findings could open the door for new targets for drug development or tracking disease progression in either disease and suggest that treatments developed could be used for both conditions.

While Alzheimer’s is primarily characterized by a harmful build-up of amyloid protein and tangles in the brain, there is also extensive inflammation in the brain that highlights the importance of the immune system in Alzheimer’s.

Previously, the team found a link between the OAS1 gene and Alzheimer’s disease.

The OAS1 gene is expressed in a type of immune cell that constitutes around 10% of all cells found within the brain.

Their findings add OAS1, an anti-viral gene, to a list of dozens of genes now known to affect a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, the researchers investigated four variants on the OAS1 gene, all of which dampen its expression (activity).

They found that the variants increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease are linked with OAS1 variants recently found to increase the baseline risk of needing intensive care for COVID-19 by as much as 20%.

The researchers found that the gene controls how much the body’s immune cells release pro-inflammatory proteins.

They found that the immune cells where the gene was expressed more weakly had an exaggerated response to tissue damage, unleashing what they call a ‘cytokine storm,’ which leads to an autoimmune state where the body attacks itself.

OAS1 activity changes with age, so further research into the genetic network could help to understand why older people are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, COVID-19, and other related diseases.

If you care about dementia, please read studies about this tooth disease linked to cognitive decline, dementia and findings of these personality traits may predict your dementia risk.

For more information about dementia treatment and prevention, please see recent studies about How to prevent dementia effectively and results showing that the way you walk could help predict dementia.

The study is published in Brain. One author of the study is Dr. Dervis Salih.

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