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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Oct 25;102(43):15647-52. Epub 2005 Oct 14.

Thinning of the cerebral cortex visualized in HIV/AIDS reflects CD4+ T lymphocyte decline.

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Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Department of Neurology, University of California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1769, USA.


HIV/AIDS infection is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, and one in every 100 adults aged 15-49 years is HIV-infected. Forty percent of AIDS patients suffer from neurological symptoms, but the selective profile of damage caused by HIV in the brain is not well understood. Here, we report 3D maps revealing how AIDS affects the human cerebral cortex, identifying the most vulnerable regions and where deficits link with cognitive decline and immune-system suppression. With high-resolution brain MRI scans, we created composite maps of cortical gray-matter thickness in 26 AIDS patients and 14 healthy controls to establish the selective pattern of brain deficits in AIDS. In AIDS, primary sensory, motor, and premotor cortices were 15% thinner. Thinner frontopolar and language cortex correlated with immune system deterioration measured through blood levels of CD4+ T lymphocytes. Prefrontal and parietal tissue loss correlated with cognitive/motor deficits. T cell depletion and cognitive impairment are, therefore, associated with specific 3D brain-deficit patterns visualized with MRI. These quantitative MRI-based maps reveal that HIV selectively damages the cortex. They provide an approach to gauge the impact of AIDS on the living brain and show that the brain is still vulnerable to infection even when patients are receiving antiretroviral therapy.

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