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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Increased cell-free mitochondrial DNA is a marker of ongoing inflammation and better neurocognitive function in virologically suppressed HIV-infected individuals

  • Author(s): Perez-Santiago, Josue
  • De Oliveira, Michelli F
  • Var, Susanna R
  • Day, Tyler RC
  • Woods, Steven P
  • Gianella, Sara
  • Mehta, Sanjay R
  • et al.

Cell-free mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a highly immunogenic molecule that is associated with several inflammatory conditions and with neurocognitive impairment during untreated HIV infection. Here, we investigate how cell-free mtDNA in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is associated with inflammation, neuronal damage, and neurocognitive functioning in the context of long-term suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART). We quantified the levels of cell-free mtDNA in the CSF from 41 HIV-infected individuals with completely suppressed HIV RNA levels in blood plasma (<50 copies/mL) by droplet digital PCR. We measured soluble CD14, soluble CD163, interferon γ-induced protein 10 (IP-10), monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), interleukin 6 (IL-6), interleukin 8 (IL-8), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), neopterin, and neurofilament light chain (NFL) by immunoassays in CSF supernatant or blood plasma. Higher levels of mtDNA in CSF were associated with higher levels of MCP-1 (r = 0.56, p < 0.01) in CSF and TNF-α (r = 0.43, p < 0.01) and IL-8 (r = 0.44, p < 0.01) in blood plasma. Subjects with a previous diagnosis of AIDS showed significantly higher levels of mtDNA (p < 0.01) than subjects without AIDS. The associations between mtDNA and MCP-1 in CSF and TNF-α in blood remained significant after adjusting for previous diagnosis of AIDS (p < 0.01). Additionally, higher levels of mtDNA were associated with a lower CD4 nadir (r = -0.41, p < 0.01) and lower current CD4%25 (r = -0.34, p = 0.03). Paradoxically, higher levels of mtDNA in CSF were significantly associated with better neurocognitive performance (r = 0.43, p = 0.02) and with less neuronal damage (i.e. lower NFL). Higher cell-free mtDNA is associated with inflammation during treated HIV infection, but the impact on neurocognitive functioning and neuronal damage remains unclear and may differ in the setting of suppressive ART.

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