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Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 1995 Jun;21(3):218-27.

Neuronal apoptosis in HIV infection in adults.

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  • 1Department of Pathology (Neuropathology), Hôpital H. Mondor, Université Paris-Val de Marne, Créteil, France.


Productive infection of the central nervous system by HIV predominantly involves the white matter and basal ganglia. Involvement of the cerebral cortex with neuronal loss is also described in AIDS patients but not in asymptomatic HIV-positive patients. The mechanism of neuronal damage is unknown. To enquire whether neuronal loss in AIDS may be due to an apoptotic process, we examined the cerebral cortex from 12 patients who died from AIDS using two different methods: in situ end labelling and gel electrophoresis of DNA to demonstrate DNA fragmentation. None of the patients had cerebral opportunistic infection or tumour. Four patients had no significant neuropathological changes, eight patients had variable cerebral atrophy and four of them also had productive HIV infection of the brain. These patients were compared with four HIV-positive asymptomatic patients, five seronegative asymptomatic controls, and two seronegative patients with Alzheimer's disease. We demonstrated neuronal apoptosis in the cortex in all AIDS patients, as well as in the Alzheimer's patients. Apoptosis was not observed in the asymptomatic cases whether seropositive or seronegative. Neuronal apoptosis was more severe in atrophic brains, and did not directly correlate with productive HIV infection, suggesting an indirect mechanism of neuronal damage is most likely.

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