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Regional Cortical Thinning Associated with Detectable Levels of HIV DNA

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High levels of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) DNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), and specifically within CD14+ blood monocytes, have been found in HIV-infected individuals with neurocognitive impairment and dementia. The failure of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to eliminate cognitive dysfunction in HIV may be secondary to persistence of HIV-infected PBMCs which cross the blood-brain barrier, leading to perivascular inflammation and neuronal injury. This study assessed brain cortical thickness relative to HIV DNA levels and identified, we believe for the first time, a neuroimaging correlate of detectable PBMC HIV DNA in subjects with undetectable HIV RNA. Cortical thickness was compared between age- and education-matched groups of older (>40 years) HIV-seropositive subjects on HAART who had detectable (N = 9) and undetectable (N = 10) PBMC HIV DNA. Statistical testing revealed highly significant (P < 0.001) cortical thinning associated with detectable HIV DNA. The largest regions affected were in bilateral insula, orbitofrontal and temporal cortices, right superior frontal cortex, and right caudal anterior cingulate. Cortical thinning correlated significantly with a measure of psychomotor speed. The areas of reduced cortical thickness are key nodes in cognitive and emotional processing networks and may be etiologically important in HIV-related neurological deficits.

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