Infections

The formerly lethal bacterial infections of the central nervous system, particularly meningitis, are now invariably cured by antibiotics. Syphilis, which responds well in early stages to treatment with penicillin, is a sexually transmitted, bacterial disease that in its late stages can affect the brain. It used to be notorious for the chameleonlike quality of the different symptoms that it produced: unsteady gait, mood swings, psychosis, and memory loss. Some parasites can enter the brain and form a lesion that produces seizures and memory loss (though this is rare). Viral infections, including those caused by herpes simplex, can cause permanent scarring in the brain with cognitive deficits, including memory loss.

Prions are fragments of proteins and do not contain any DNA or RNA, which is the counterpart or mirror image of DNA. Because prions do not possess any DNA or RNA, they should not have life, which is defined according to the rules of modern biology as the ability to reproduce and propagate like viruses, bacteria, and the rest of the plant and animal kingdom. However, Stanley Prusiner, a recent Nobel laureate, has stuck steadfastly to the claim that these protein fragments can reproduce and cause diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rapidly progressive form of dementia, and other slowly progressive neurologic disorders. The notorious "mad cow disease" is a close relative of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, and may also be caused by prions. Some have begun to speculate that the elusive prion may also cause Alzheimer's disease. And I wonder, could prions play a role in memory loss due to the aging process?

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