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Cortex. 2012 Feb;48(2):230-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2011.03.006. Epub 2011 Mar 15.

Mapping the brain in younger and older asymptomatic HIV-1 men: frontal volume changes in the absence of other cortical or diffusion tensor abnormalities.

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  • 1King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK. karren.towgood@kcl.ac.uk



Over the past decade the developments made in treating people with human immune deficiency virus (HIV) have greatly improved quality of life and life expectancy. However, the nature of asymptomatic HIV-associated minor neurocognitive disorder (HAND) remains unclear. In this study we explored the occurrence of neuropsychological and neuroimaging changes in medically and psychiatrically stable HIV-1 infected patients on highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) from two separate age groups.


Participants included 20 HIV-1 infected younger (aged 20-40) and 20 HIV-1 older patients (aged 50-75). Comparisons were made with 20 age- and education-matched younger and 22 matched older healthy seronegative males. Participants were stable on treatment and asymptomatic at study onset with undetectable HIV-1 viral loads, and free of medical or psychiatric co-morbidity, alcohol or substance misuse. A detailed neuropsychological assessment was used and volumetric-magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) performed to assess grey and white-matter integrity.


We found significant effects of ageing on memory, grey and white matter measures. Comparison of the HIV-positive and HIV-negative groups did not show significant differences on the neuropsychological tests after Bonferroni correction, and there were no significant age by HIV status interactions. However, we did find reduced grey matter volume on MRI in our HIV-positive participants within the medial and superior frontal gyri. We also found significant ageing effects in fronto-temporal grey and white matter, independent of the effect of HIV.


The results from this study suggest that HIV-1 disease by itself does not significantly impair cognitive function when patients are otherwise asymptomatic. Nevertheless, the imaging techniques were sensitive enough to detect subtle grey matter changes not normally evident until much later in the disease. If confirmed in a longitudinal study this frontal grey matter change could represent an important biomarker for trials in HIV disease.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Srl. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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