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Article  July 1, 2014

Accelerated Aging of Selective Brain Structures in Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: A Controlled, Longitudinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

SRI Authors Adolf Pfefferbaum



Pfefferbaum, A., Rogosa, D. A., Rosenbloom, M. J., Chu, W., Sassoon, S. A., Kemper, C. A., . . . Sullivan, E. V. (2014). Accelerated aging of selective brain structures in human immunodeficiency virus infection: a controlled, longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging study. Neurobiology of Aging, 35(7), 1755-1768. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.01.008


Advances in treatment have transformed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection from an inexorable march to severe morbidity and premature death to a manageable chronic condition, often marked by good health. Thus, infected individuals are living long enough that there is a potential for interaction with normal senescence effects on various organ systems, including the brain. To examine this interaction, the brains of 51 individuals with HIV infection and 65 uninfected controls were studied using 351 magnetic resonance imaging and a battery of neuropsychological tests collected 2 or more times over follow-up periods ranging from 6 months to 8 years. Brain tissue regions of interest showed expected age-related decrease in volume; cerebrospinal fluid-filled spaces showed increase in volume for both groups. Although HIV-infected individuals were in good general health, and free of clinically-detectable dementia, several brain regions supporting higher-order cognition and integration of functions showed acceleration of the normal aging trajectory, including neocortex, which extended from the frontal and temporal poles to the parietal lobe, and the thalamus. Beyond an anticipated increase in lateral ventricle and Sylvian fissure volumes and decrease in tissue volumes (specifically, the frontal and sensorimotor neocortices, thalamus, and hippocampus) with longer duration of illness, most regions also showed accelerated disease progression. This accelerated loss of cortical tissue may represent a risk factor for premature cognitive and motor compromise if not dementia. On a more promising note, HIV-infected patients with increasing CD4 counts exhibited slower expansion of Sylvian fissure volume and slower declines of frontal and temporoparietal cortices, insula, and hippocampus tissue volumes. Thus, attenuated shrinkage of these brain regions, likely with adequate pharmacologic treatment and control of further infection, has the potential of abating decline in associated higher-order functions, notably, explicit memory, executive functions, self-regulation, and visuospatial abilities.

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