There is evidence of HIV affecting cognitive functioning across age groups, with adult studies showing related deficits in frontostriatal and hippocampal regional activity. Additionally, delayed initiation of antiretroviral treatment (ART) has been associated with poorer cognitive outcomes in HIV-infected youth. Little is known, however, of the neural correlates underlying such cognitive deficits in youth populations. We investigated maintenance working memory-related brain activity in South African HIV-infected youth and controls, and the effect of ART initiation age on underlying structures. Sixty-four perinatally infected youth (ages 9-12) and 20 controls (ages 9-13) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while completing 1-back and 0-back blocks of the N-back task. At an uncorrected p value threshold of 0.001, the HIV-infected group showed decreased activation in the left superior temporal gyrus, pre- and postcentral gyri, insula, and putamen as well as bilateral hippocampus, and mid cingulum. The HIV patients with delayed ART initiation showed less activation during processing conditions in the mid cingulum; left inferior parietal gyrus; and right inferior frontal, bilateral thalamic, and superior temporal regions. When these regions were tested for structural differences, the mid cingulum and right inferior frontal gyrus, insula, and thalamus were found to have less cortical thickness, surface area, or volume in the group with delayed ART initiation. Regional differences between HIV-infected youth and controls noted in the N-back task are consistent with impairments in structures involved in maintenance working memory. These data support earlier ART initiation in perinatally infected individuals.
Keywords: Adolescents; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Human immunodeficiency virus; Maintenance working memory.