Background: Children with vertically acquired HIV exhibit persistent cognitive impairments, yet the corresponding neuroimaging signature of vertical infection remains unclear.
Methods: Fifty healthy control children and 51 vertically infected children were included in the study. The HIV-infected group consisted of survivors who had not received antiretroviral therapy at birth. The HIV-infected group averaged 11.4 (2.5) years of age, with a median CD4 count of 683 cells/mm(3). Most (71%) of the HIV-infected children were on antiretroviral therapy for a median of 34 months (range: 33-42) with HIV RNA <40 copies/mL in 89% of the sample. The HIV-uninfected group averaged 10.6 (2.6) years of age. Magnetic resonance imaging was acquired to determine volumes of the caudate, putamen, thalamus, pallidum, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens, total white matter, total gray matter and cortical gray matter. Correlational analyses examined the degree of shared variance between brain volumes and both cognitive performances and laboratory markers of disease activity (T cells and plasma viral load).
Results: HIV-infected children exhibited larger volumes of the caudate, nucleus accumbens, total gray matter and cortical gray matter when compared with the controls. Volumetric differences were predominately evident in children under 12 years of age. HIV-infected children performed worse than controls on most neuropsychologic tests, though neither cognitive performances nor laboratory markers corresponded to brain volumes in the HIV-infected children.
Conclusions: Outcomes of the present study suggest abnormal brain maturation among HIV-infected pediatric survivors. Longitudinal studies of brain integrity and related resilience factors are needed to determine the impact of neuroimaging abnormalities on psychosocial function in pediatric HIV.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00234091.