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Bull Acad Natl Med. 1996 Nov;180(8):1855-67; discussion 1867-8.

[Neuronal apoptosis in the course of human immunodeficiency virus infection].

[Article in French]

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Laboratoire d'Anatomie Pathologique (Neuropathologie), Hôpital Raymond Poincaré-Faculté de Médecine Paris-Ouest, Garches, France.


Apart from the unique changes characteristic of "HIV encephalitis", the productive infection of central nervous system by HIV, which involves predominantly the white matter and basal ganglia, evidence is accumulating that the cerebral cortex may also be affected in AIDS patients. Neuronal loss, suspected at microscopical examination, has been demonstrated by a number of morphometric studies. However, the cause and mechanism of neuronal damage in HIV infection, are still unclear. In an attempt to look for an apoptotic process at the origin of neuronal loss in AIDS, we examined samples of frontal cortex, temporal cortex and basal ganglia from 12 patients who died from AIDS and 4 HIV-positive asymptomatic cases using in situ end labelling to demonstrate characteristic DNA fragmentation. These were compared with 5 seronegative asymptomatic controls, and 2 seronegative patients with Alzheimer's disease. We demonstrated neuronal apoptosis in all the AIDS cases and in the Alzheimer's cases. Positive in situ end labelling was usually associated with morphological changes suggestive of neuronal apoptosis. Semiquantitative appreciation of the density of apoptotic neurons showed that neuronal apoptosis was more severe in atrophic brains. In contrast, no correlation was found between the density of apoptotic neurons and the presence of HIV encephalitis or a history of cognitive disorder. Only occasional apoptotic neurons were found in one asymptomatic, HIV-positive case. Apoptosis was never observed in asymptomatic seronegative cases. Experimental studies tend to support our in vivo findings. Infection by HIV of primary cultures of human embryonic central nervous system induced frequent apoptosis of neurons. No apoptotic cell was identified in non infected control cultures.

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