HIV infection associated with premature aging
WHILE combination antiretroviral therapy can enable people with HIV to enjoy many more years of life than they might previously have expected, the same patients appear to be prone to losing an average of 5 years of life due to premature aging. The results of the research, which involved the use of a highly accurate biomarker to measure biological aging, are published in Molecular Cell. HIV is a virus that, once acquired, never totally leaves the body.
The virus attacks the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections and disease, including infection-related cancers. Without treatment, the patient can develop AIDS. Although there is no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART), if correctly used, can keep the patient healthy and prolong the person’s life to almost what it would have been without HIV.
Researchers from the University of Nebraska in Omaha, and the University of California in San Diego, teamed up to find out more about how chronic HIV infection affects aging. The study involved 137 patients with HIV but no other health conditions that could bias the results. Participants were already enrolled in a long-term study to monitor people with HIV who are receiving combination antiretroviral therapy.
It involved a control group of 44 HIV-negative individuals. An independent group of 48 subjects, both HIV positive and negative, was used to confirm the findings. The team used a new tool to study epigenetic changes in people’s cells. Epigenetic changes are those that alter the DNA but not the DNA sequence.
After these changes occur, they are passed down from one generation of cells to the next, influencing gene expression. The current research focused on methylation as a biomarker to show a specific epigenetic change. Methylation occurs when small chemical groups attach to the DNA, and it can affect how genes are translated into proteins.
Results suggest that HIV infection leads to an average advance in biological aging of 4.9 years, associated with a 19% increased risk of mortality. Previous studies have shown that methylation alters across the genome as we age, explains co-author Trey Ideker, a professor of Genetics in the Department of Medicine at the University of California.
This is sometimes referred to as entropy or genetic drift. It remains unclear precisely how these changes give rise to the symptoms of aging, but it is possible to measure the changes within human cells. The authors did not expect to see such a strong aging effect. They were also surprised to see that there was no difference between the methylation patterns in individuals who had been infected for under 5 years and those who had had the infection for more than 12 years.
“The medical issues in treating people with HIV have changed. We’re no longer as worried about infections that come from being immunocompromised. Now we worry about diseases related to aging, like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment and liver problems.” photo
Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani awarding degree to a student during convocation of Ziaduddin University.—PO