Is a giant virus making us stupid?

[D]iminished cognitive functioning has generally been considered a consequence of either genetic inheritance or environmental pressure, but researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have discovered something that everyone else had missed: a virus.

While conducting a study on cognition, the scientists put volunteers through cognitive tests in addition to taking swabs of every participant’s throat. Surprise surprise:

Once subjects completed the original study’s cognitive assessments, the researchers also discovered that those participants carrying DNA of the chlorovirus — Acanthocystis turfacea chlorella virus 1, or ATCV-1 — performed measurably worse than those without it on tests of visual processing and spatial orientation.

ATCV-1 is a very large virus, containing about 400 genes, which makes it a monster when compared to most viruses with 7-10 genes. In fact, scientists have probably missed it because filters used to select for viruses contain pores that would be smaller than ATCV-1, meaning the chlorovirus was ‘caught in the filter’ each time.

The study demonstrates how pathogens can affect not only our health but our ability to think and remember. The big question now is how did a virus found heretofore only in algae jump kingdoms to populate in the throats of human beings? No, swimmers and non-swimmers alike have the virus, so being in water may not be the answer—unless it can be spread via oral contact. Think of that next time you kiss someone…

Read the entire report via UNL, Johns Hopkins researchers identify DNA of algae virus in humans | News Releases | University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Where did my brain go? Living with MS.

D'oh! MS can make you feel like Homer Simpson.

MANY of you are aware that I’ve been dealing with the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) for years now; in fact, the initial symptoms began nearly 15 years ago. I’ve grown accustomed to days where walking up and down stairs is a struggle, but it’s the cognitive problems that have begun to wear thin for me.

What do I mean by cognitive problems? Lesions in the brain are the primary culprit, but fatigue can also play a role. This morning, for instance, I had to phone our insurance company to confirm that my new neurologist is one of the approved providers. When asked to read our account number, I couldn’t seem to read it correctly. I read it to her at least six different times, and each time I made major mistakes reading it. She was kind and patient, and we finally managed to work it out (she was nice enough to look up our names in the network).  I can’t tell you how frustrating that is! I kept substituting numbers for letters—again and again—and I KNEW that I was saying it wrong, but my mouth kept saying the wrong thing. Continue reading “Where did my brain go? Living with MS.”