The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS can spread to the patients' brain early in the illness process, revealed a study published in PLoS Pathogens. In the absence of antiretroviral therapy, HIV can genetically evolve and independently replicate in patients' brains as early as four months after initial infection and predisposes an individual to HIV-associated dementia. These findings stress the importance of routine HIV testing to catch the infection as early as possible to allow the prompt initiation of antiretroviral therapy.
Ronald Swanstrom, director, Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), University of North Carolina in the US, informed that one-third of people not taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) to control their HIV will eventually develop HIV-associated dementia.
Researchers followed 72 participants during the first two years of HIV infection. These participants were not taking ART to control their HIV at the time of the study. Through analysis of their cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and blood samples, 20% of the participants showed replication in the central nervous system (CNS) at four months. Additionally, 30% of participants showed evidence of a marked CSF inflammatory response in at least one time point and 16% of study volunteers showed a marked CSF inflammatory response at multiple time points, suggesting an ongoing infection in the CNS.
Swanstrom said, "This shows that viral replication and inflammation can occur early in infection with the concern being that the damage caused could be irreversible. HIV and inflammation have the potential to accelerate the aging process and cause neurocognitive impairment, in the extreme case resulting in HIV-associated dementia."