HIV-associated structural brain changes as related to cognition
Courtney, Maureen Glessner
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Nearly half of all HIV-positive individuals present with some form of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND). The experiments described in this thesis examined the structural changes that occur in the brain as a result of HIV infection. While previous work has established that HIV targets the basal ganglia and fronto-striatal systems and impacts cortical and white matter pathways, it was unknown whether these changes occur in the absence of HAND. The studies described here focused on cognitively asymptomatic HIV+ individuals (CAHIV+) without HAND as determined by widely accepted neuropsychological performance guidelines. Experiment 1 utilized diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to examine HIV-associated alterations in white matter (WM) fractional anisotropy (FA) in the absence of HAND in 23 HIV+ individuals and 17 control participants (HIV-) matched for age, education, and verbal IQ. The hypothesis was that CAHIV+ participants would show lower FA values than HIV- in the corpus callosum, frontotemporal, and parietal regions of interest (ROIs). CAHIV+ individuals demonstrated higher FA in the frontotemporal region and posterior corpus callosum, but lower FA in parietal WM relative to HIV- individuals. Experiment 2 utilized structural MRI to compare cortical thickness in 22 CAHIV+ individuals and 19 control participants (HIV-) matched for age, education, and verbal IQ. The hypothesis was that CAHIV+ participants would have thinner frontal, temporal, and parietal regions than HIV- participants. Reduced cortical thickness measures were identified in the cingulate and superior temporal gyri, with increased cortical thickness measures in the inferior occipital gyrus, for HIV+ participants compared to HIV-. Experiment 3 examined the relationship between the structural alterations identified in Experiments 1 and 2, neuropsychological performance on tests sensitive to HAND identification, and immunological characteristics in 30 HIV+ participants and 28 HIV- control participants. As hypothesized, regional FA values, cortical thickness, and viral load were related to neuropsychological composite scores for CAHIV+, but not HIV-. Together, results from these three studies suggest that regional FA and cortical alterations identified in CAHIV+ patients may contribute to the cognitive deficits often seen in later stages of HIV disease.