Saturday, July 17, 2010

Virus HERV-W could be the cause of Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and MS...

I just finished reading an article entitled The Insanity Virus by Douglas Fox (Discover Magazine, June 2010) about the connection between a virus and mental illness.  The virus HERV-W is a retrovirus that could trigger diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and MS.  The virus lives in a person's DNA and the proposal is that if a person has a weakened immune system shortly after birth, this virus isn't contained well.  Subsequent infections later in life cause the HERV-W to unleash itself and do damage....

Apparently, it is thought that infection by toxoplasmosis or influenza, can wake up the HERV-W virus.  Moreso, basically anything that causes inflammation - like an infection, cigarette smoke, pollutants in drinking water - can cause retroviruses to be awakened...

Beyond the science of the article (which is quite intriguing!), I'm interested in the practical implications of what this could mean, and one statement from this article about schizophrenia says: "It explains why the disease waxes and wanes like a chronic infection.  And it could explain why some schizophrenics suffer their first psychosis after a mysterious, monolike illness."

Current reasoning for the waxing and waning of mental illness has to do with things like: changes in levels of stress, changes in medication, ability to cope, lifelong progression of the illness, etc.  What if it also has to do with the immune system?

I, personally, often feel that my mood is effected by physical sickness. I started taking zinc to treat a cold and then found that it helps my depression.

If a person is under more stress, they are more likely to get physically sick, as well as have increased psychiatric symptoms.

Should treating our immune system be part of treating bipolar disorder?  The article has this solution:  Faith Dickerson at Sheppard Pratt Health System, "is running a clinical trial to examine whether adding an anti-infective agent called artemisinin to the drugs that patients are already taking can lessen the symptoms of schizophrenia. The drug would hit HERV-W indirectly by tamping down the infections that awaken it."


  1. I live with bipolar and this makes "break through like" sense. Two years ago I happened upon a "nutrition regimen" that included anti viral, and anti inflammatory herbs etc, and my bipolar episodes dramatically decreased. But to my amazement..when spring came I no longer needed benedril to control my allergies either. I now am convinced that controlling inflammation is a critical piece of my care that no physician has ever brought forth for me. I have also learned more about how lithium works, and it seems to have some anti inflammatory elements as well..however my stomach could never tolerate it. This is important discovery...especially if there can be a ligitimate correlation to a non psychiatric disease process...then perhaps it will go a long way in helping to understand the necessity of adequate treatment, destigmatizing the illness, releaving some of terrible self image problems that people with mental illness carry around, and offering hope to sufferers.

    1. What is bipolar? I don't understand..

  2. This is by far one of the most fascinating things ever. To think that the ventricular lining are and ventricle fluid that flows through the brain could be infected with a placental retrovirus that is activated-silenced-reactivated, forced into autophagy and inflammation, all while yielding bipolar, MS, or schiozophrenia, and neurodegeneration. More interesting is the fact that antibodies to it are readily detected in blood. I doubt that nutrition has anything to do with this, as per the last reply. This is by far viral, no medication could ever get rid of it. So that comment is completely illogical. However, the autophagy and viral nature, namely RT viral nature is completely intriguing, as is the kinase path. If only more of this research were published, what a fascinating topic.