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Bird flu leaves tracks in brain

Virus might create vulnerability to neurological disorders, research in mice suggests

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5:07pm, January 31, 2012

After surviving a bout of virulent bird flu, mice’s brains show short-term reductions of a key brain chemical and long-lasting signs of infection, a new study finds. The research suggests this type of flu might leave people more vulnerable to brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

While most people think of influenza as a disorder of the body, certain kinds of flu also infect the brain. Recent studies have found that the bird flu virus known as H5N1, which kills about half the people it infects, can set up shop in the brain. But exactly what happens next has been a mystery.

In the new study, scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., examined the brains of mice that had survived an initial H5N1 infection. As in people, the virus kills about half of mice affected.

“The first goal with H5N1 was to characterize the neurological effects,” says study coauthor Richard Smeyne.

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