Article type: Research Article

Authors: Cairns, Dana M.a | Itzhaki, Ruth F.b1 | Kaplan, David L.a1*

Affiliations: [a] Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA | [b] Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Correspondence: [*] Correspondence to: David Kaplan, Tufts University, Biomedical Engineering Department, 4 Colby Street, Medford, MA 02155, USA. Tel.: +1 617 627 3251; E-mail:

Note: [1] RFI and DK are joint senior authors.

Abstract: Background:Varicella zoster virus (VZV) has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and vaccination against shingles, caused by VZV, has been found to decrease the risk of AD/dementia. VZV might reside latently in brain, and on reactivation might cause direct damage leading to AD, as proposed for herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), a virus strongly implicated in AD. Alternatively, shingles could induce neuroinflammation and thence, reactivation of HSV-1 in brain. Objective:To investigate these possibilities by comparing the effects of VZV and HSV-1 infection of cultured cells, and the action of VZV infection on cells quiescently infected with HSV-1. Methods:We infected human-induced neural stem cell (hiNSC) cultures with HSV-1 and/or VZV and sought the presence of AD-related phenotypes such as amyloid-β (Aβ) and P-tau accumulation, gliosis, and neuroinflammation. Results:Cells infected with VZV did not show the main AD characteristics, Aβ and P-tau accumulation, which HSV-1 does cause, but did show gliosis and increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting that VZV’s action relating to AD/dementia is indirect. Strikingly, we found that VZV infection of cells quiescently infected with HSV-1 causes reactivation of HSV-1 and consequent AD-like changes, including Aβ and P-tau accumulation. Conclusion:Our results are consistent with the suggestion that shingles causes reactivation of HSV1 in brain and with the protective effects against AD of various vaccines, as well as the decrease in herpes labialis reported after certain types of vaccination. They support an indirect role for VZV in AD/dementia via reactivation of HSV-1 in brain. 

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease, 3D brain model, herpes simplex virus type 1, latent, quiescent, reactivation, varicella zoster virus

DOI: 10.3233/JAD-220287

Journal: Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, vol. 88, no. 3, pp. 1189-1200, 2022

Accepted 25 May 2022
Published: 02 August 2022