U of A Medical Research Team Discovers
Hepatitis C Virus Damages Brain Cells
Alberta -- October 7, 2010 -- A University of Alberta researcher
specializing in neurological infections has discovered that
the hepatitis C virus injures and inflames brain cells, resulting
in neurological issues for some patients living with the disease.
Until now, no one has been able to prove this.
A recent Canadian study suggests that 13 per cent of people
with hepatitis C, a chronic condition that affects 300,000 Canadians,
also have neurological problems. Other research has suggested
the hepatitis C virus might penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
Chris Power, the Canada Research Chair in Neurological Infection
and Immunity with the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and
his team decided to tackle this theory conducting experiments
on human cadavers.
"We saw the virus in the brain of a deceased patient who
had hepatitis C," said Powers, who noted that normally
it is very difficult for any type of virus or infection to pass
the blood-brain barrier. Based on this discovery, the researchers
made three new and major findings. The hepatitis C virus damaged
those neurons in the brain responsible for motor functions,
memory and concentration. The virus also triggered inflammation
of the brain, which contributed to more neurons being damaged.
And, thirdly, the virus stopped a natural process in the brain
cells called autophagy, in which the cells get rid of unwanted
toxic proteins. So, instead, the brain cells were accumulating
large amounts of these toxic proteins, causing further damage
to the brain cells.
"For a long time, the medical community has recognized
some people who have hepatitis C also have memory loss and poor
concentration, which is very disabling for those patients,"
says Power. "Now we have some understanding about the cause
of these neurological symptoms that can lead to the development
of future treatments for people with hepatitis C."
"This discovery is significant because this is the first
time anyone has confirmed that the hepatitis C virus can infect
and injure brain cells."
The research conducted by Power and his team was funded by an
Emerging Team Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
He collaborated with Babita Agrawal and Jack Jhamandas, both
of the U of A, and Chris Richardson of Dalhousie University
in Halifax. The discoveries by Power and his team were just
published in the prestigious Public Library of Science (PLoS)