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Combination antiretroviral therapy improves cognitive performance and functional connectivity in treatment-naïve HIV-infected individuals.


Our study aimed to investigate the short-term effect of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) on cognitive performance and functional and structural connectivity and their relationship to plasma levels of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. Seventeen ARV treatment-naïve HIV-infected individuals (baseline mean CD4 cell count, 479 ± 48 cells/mm3) were age matched with 17 HIV-uninfected individuals. All subjects underwent a detailed neurocognitive and functional assessment and magnetic resonance imaging. HIV-infected subjects were scanned before starting cART and 12 weeks after initiation of treatment. Uninfected subjects were assessed once at baseline. Functional connectivity (FC) was assessed within the default mode network while structural connectivity was assessed by voxel-wise analysis using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) and probabilistic tractography within the DMN. Tenofovir and emtricitabine blood concentration were measured at week 12 of cART. Prior to cART, HIV-infected individuals had significantly lower cognitive performance than control subjects as measured by the total Z-score from the neuropsychological tests assessing six cognitive domains (p = 0.020). After 12 weeks of cART treatment, there remained only a weak cognitive difference between HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected subjects (p = 0.057). Mean FC was lower in HIV-infected individuals compared with those uninfected (p = 0.008), but FC differences became non-significant after treatment (p = 0.197). There were no differences in DTI metrics between HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected individuals using the TBSS approach and limited evidence of decreased structural connectivity within the DMN in HIV-infected individuals. Tenofovir and emtricitabine plasma concentrations did not correlate with either cognitive performance or imaging metrics.


Twelve weeks of cART improves cognitive performance and functional connectivity in ARV treatment-naïve HIV-infected individuals with relatively preserved immune function. Longer periods of observation are necessary to assess whether this effect is maintained.

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