Protein Aggregation versus Infection Hypotheses of Alzheimer's Disease

The amyloid hypothesis has dominated the past twenty years of failed attempts to build therapies to treat Alzheimer's disease. However, it is only very recently that immunotherapies and other methods of reducing amyloid-β levels in the aging brain have started to show signs of working. As a consequence, the field is in a state of some upheaval when it comes to choice of strategy going forward. Alternative views of Alzheimer's and its development have emerged and gained enough support to raise sufficient funds to compete. In the long run, this is all to the good, I think. A diversity of approaches always beats out a top-down monoculture when it comes to finding viable paths forward. The open access paper noted here examines a few different hypotheses that have risen to prominence.

In this review, we focus on four Alzheimer's disease (AD) hypotheses currently relevant to AD onset: the prevailing amyloid cascade hypothesis, the well-recognized tau hypothesis, the increasingly popular pathogen (viral infection) hypothesis, and the infection-related antimicrobial protection hypothesis. In briefly reviewing the main evidence supporting each hypothesis and discussing the questions that need to be addressed, we hope to gain a better understanding of the complicated multi-layered interactions in potential causal and/or risk factors in AD pathogenesis.

As a defining feature of AD, the existence of amyloid deposits is likely fundamental to AD onset but is insufficient to wholly reproduce many complexities of the disorder. A similar belief is currently also applied to hyperphosphorylated tau aggregates within neurons, where tau has been postulated to drive neurodegeneration in the presence of pre-existing Aβ plaques in the brain.

Although infection of the central nervous system by pathogens such as viruses may increase AD risk, it is yet to be determined whether this phenomenon is applicable to all cases of sporadic AD and whether it is a primary trigger for AD onset. Lastly, the antimicrobial protection hypothesis provides insight into a potential physiological role for Aβ peptides, but how Aβ/microbial interactions affect AD pathogenesis during aging awaits further validation. Nevertheless, this hypothesis cautions potential adverse effects in Aβ-targeting therapies by hindering potential roles for Aβ in anti-viral protection.

Unlike familial AD, sporadic AD may evolve from a combination of various genetic and environmental factors. Neuroinflammation, tau pathogenesis, and viral infection have all been implicated to play important roles in AD; however, these factors do not appear to be pathogenic triggers that are specifically relevant to AD. Thus, specific causal mechanisms that drive AD onset have yet to be clearly defined, which may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets. It is now widely accepted that sporadic AD is a complicated syndrome.