Viruses and neurodegeneration

Virol J. 2013 May 31;10:172. doi: 10.1186/1743-422X-10-172.


Neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) are chronic degenerative diseases of the central nervous system (CNS), which affect 37 million people worldwide. As the lifespan increases, the NDs are the fourth leading cause of death in the developed countries and becoming increasingly prevalent in developing countries. Despite considerable research, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Although the large majority of studies do not show support for the involvement of pathogenic aetiology in classical NDs, a number of emerging studies show support for possible association of viruses with classical neurodegenerative diseases in humans. Space does not permit for extensive details to be discussed here on non-viral-induced neurodegenerative diseases in humans, as they are well described in literature.Viruses induce alterations and degenerations of neurons both directly and indirectly. Their ability to attack the host immune system, regions of nervous tissue implies that they can interfere with the same pathways involved in classical NDs in humans. Supporting this, many similarities between classical NDs and virus-mediated neurodegeneration (non-classical) have been shown at the anatomic, sub-cellular, genomic and proteomic levels suggesting that viruses can explain neurodegenerative disorders mechanistically. The main objective of this review is to provide readers a detailed snapshot of similarities viral and non-viral neurodegenerative diseases share, so that mechanistic pathways of neurodegeneration in human NDs can be clearly understood. Viruses can guide us to unveil these pathways in human NDs. This will further stimulate the birth of new concepts in the biological research, which is needed for gaining deeper insights into the treatment of human NDs and delineate mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / virology*
  • Virus Diseases / complications*