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Alcohol Res Health. 2001;25(4):288-98.

Effects of alcohol and HIV infection on the central nervous system.

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Department of Radiology, Department of Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.


Many people at risk for or infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are heavy drinkers. Both HIV infection and heavy alcohol use adversely affect the immune system and central nervous system (CNS) function. However, little research has addressed the effects of heavy alcohol use on the severity and progression of HIV disease, including the development of HIV-associated CNS disease. Animal and in-vitro studies suggest that alcohol impairs various aspects of the immune system and increases the susceptibility to HIV infection, but may not accelerate progression of HIV disease. However, heavy alcohol use may interfere with the patient's adherence to antiretroviral treatment regimens. Neuropathological and neuropsychological studies have indicated that certain brain areas are affected by both HIV-infection and chronic alcohol abuse. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies of both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people who were either heavy or light drinkers found that chronic alcohol abuse exacerbates some metabolic injury in the brains of HIV-infected people, although this effect may be less pronounced in patients receiving effective antiretroviral therapy.

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