Common infections may increase risk for memory decline

February 13, 2014, American Heart Association

Exposure to common infections is linked to memory and brain function—even if the infections never made you ill, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2014.

Researchers found an index of antibody levels caused by exposure to Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 was associated with worse cognitive performance, including memory, speed of mental processing, abstract thinking, planning and reasoning ability.

"We were very interested in what were the risk factors for and decline," said Clinton Wright, M.D., M.S., the study's lead researcher and scientific director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Miami.

Earlier studies have already linked certain infections to an increased risk of stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers investigated if evidence of past exposure to these infections contributed to performance on tests of memory, thinking speed and other brain functions.

The study conducted tests and took blood samples from 588 people who participated in the Northern Manhattan Study. Half of the participants then took again in five years.

Researchers believe exposure to these infections may be associated with an increase in stroke risk, as well as an increase in atherosclerosis and inflammation, said Dr. Wright, who is also chief of the division of cognitive disorders and associate professor of neurology, neuroscience, and epidemiology and public health at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.

The study doesn't explain why the infections are related to worsening cognitive function. "It could be caused by an immune system response to the infections or the itself could result in clinical damage that we're not aware of," Wright said.

Wright, who conducted the study in collaboration with researchers at Columbia University, isn't suggesting that people take any action to combat these infections. "There is no evidence yet that treating these infections is beneficial," he said, because the initial exposure to the viruses may have happened decades earlier and the damage may be the result of a gradual process. "It would be great if treatment prevented these bad outcomes, but we're very far away from having that type of evidence." Further studies will need to be conducted to see if the findings are duplicated in other populations, he said, since most of the participants in the study—70 percent—were Hispanic.

Explore further: Could that cold sore increase your risk of memory problems?

Related Stories

Could that cold sore increase your risk of memory problems?

March 25, 2013
The virus that causes cold sores, along with other viral or bacterial infections, may be associated with cognitive problems, according to a new study published in the March 26, 2013, print issue of Neurology.

Infections damage our ability to form spatial memories

January 24, 2014
Increased inflammation following an infection impairs the brain's ability to form spatial memories – according to new research. The impairment results from a decrease in glucose metabolism in the brain's memory centre, ...

Common infections linked to stroke in children, vaccines may reduce risk

February 12, 2014
Common infections are associated with a significantly higher chance of stroke in children, but routine vaccinations may help decrease risk, according to preliminary research presented at the American Stroke Association's ...

Herpes viruses associated with cognitive impairment

December 6, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—The herpes virus that produces cold sores during times of stress now has been linked to cognitive impairment throughout life, according to a new University of Michigan study that for the first time shows ...

Stroke trigger more deadly for African-Americans

February 7, 2014
Infection is a stronger trigger of stroke death in African- Americans than in whites, a University of Michigan study shows.

Increased fluctuation in blood pressure linked to impaired cognitive function in older people

July 30, 2013
Higher variability in visit-to-visit blood pressure readings, independent of average blood pressure, could be related to impaired cognitive function in old age in those already at high risk of cardiovascular disease, suggests ...

Recommended for you

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.