In utero exposure to HIV and/or antiretroviral therapy: a systematic review of preclinical and clinical evidence of cognitive outcomes

J Int AIDS Soc. 2019 Apr;22(4):e25275. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25275.


Introducion: With the increasing number of children exposed to HIV or antiretroviral therapy in utero, there are concerns that this population may have worse neurodevelopmental outcomes compared to those who are unexposed. The objective of this study was to systematically review the clinical and preclinical literature on the effects of in utero exposure to HIV and/or antiretroviral therapy (ART) on neurodevelopment.

Methods: We systematically searched OVID Medline, PsycINFO and Embase, as well as the Cochrane Collaborative Database, Google Scholar and bibliographies of pertinent articles. Titles, abstracts, and full texts were assessed independently by two reviewers. Data from included studies were extracted. Results are summarized qualitatively.

Results: The search yielded 3027 unique titles. Of the 255 critically reviewed full-text articles, 25 met inclusion criteria for the systematic review. Five articles studied human subjects and looked at brain structure and function. The remaining 20 articles were preclinical studies that mostly focused on behavioural assessments in animal models. The few clinical studies had mixed results. Some clinical studies found no difference in white matter while others noted higher fractional anisotropy and lower mean diffusivity in the brains of HIV-exposed uninfected children compared to HIV-unexposed uninfected children, correlating with abnormal neurobehavioral scores. Preclinical studies focused primarily on neurobehavioral changes resulting from monotherapy with either zidovudine or lamivudine. Various developmental and behavioural changes were noted in preclinical studies with ART exposure, including decreased grooming, decreased attention, memory deficits and fewer behaviours associated with appropriate social interaction.

Conclusions: While the existing literature suggests that there may be some neurobehavioral differences associated with HIV and ART exposure, limited data are available to substantially support these claims. More research is needed comparing neurobiological factors between HIV-exposed uninfected and HIV-unexposed uninfected children and using exposures consistent with current clinical care.

Keywords: HIV; antiretroviral therapy; brain; cognition; highly active; laboratory animal science; maternal exposure.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition* / drug effects
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / physiopathology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*