Brain Function Changes Identified in Early HIV

Cognitive changes could be indictor of HIV prognosis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For HIV patients in the early stages of the disease, about half will develop changes in brain function including attention and memory deficits, and problems with verbal fluency.

Such evidence of cognitive decline in HIV patients could suggest a negative prognosis including a reduced survival time and increased risk of death.

"Follow your doctor's recommendations for managing HIV."

Ann Ragin, principal investigator and research professor at Northwestern University Medical School, said the findings indicate that changes in brain function are occurring very early in HIV infection. She noted that changes in connectivity between brain regions may reflect vulnerability to cognitive decline.

Researchers used functional MRI scans to obtain blood oxygen level dependent measurements in several brain regions that provide data about resting-state brain connectivity in 30 participants. Half of those participating were within their first year of HIV infection while the remainder were healthy age-matched volunteers without HIV.

Participants also underwent neuropsychological testing to assess their motor skills, cognitive flexibility, abstraction,
verbal memory, nonverbal memory, and visuo-constructional skills. Patients that had HIV demonstrated a poorer performance as compared to the control group.

They found prominent changes between the two groups in the functional connectivity of visual networks within in the brain, which plays a role in visual-motor coordination.

Based on the findings, investigators suggested that functional connectivity measurements could be a useful non-invasive tool for pinpointing neurological changes and central nervous system injury during the early stages of HIV infection. Ragin called for additional larger studies to determine further possible brain changes as the disease progresses.

The research, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, was recently published in neuroscience journal Brain Connectivity.

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Review Date: 
October 6, 2011
Last Updated:
October 8, 2011