Objective: Inflammation may contribute to brain white matter health in people living with HIV who report cognitive symptoms despite adherence to combination antiretroviral therapy and viral suppression. We explored relationships between diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics of white matter, plasma biomarkers of immune activation, and cognitive function in the HIV-infected population.
Design: Retrospective study of older adults living with HIV who are combination antiretroviral therapy adherent, virally suppressed, and self-report cognitive symptoms.
Methods: MRI, blood draws, and standardized neuropsychological test scores were collected from HIV-infected individuals. DTI metrics (fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, radial diffusivity, axial diffusivity) and plasma biomarkers (soluble CD163, soluble CD14, neopterin, IFN γ-induced protein 10, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1) were quantified. Statistical analysis explored associations between biomarker levels or neuropsychological test scores and DTI metrics using region of interest analyses and a voxelwise approach.
Results: A total of 43 participants with median (interquartile range) age of 64 (62-66 years), CD4 cell count of 600 (400-760 cell/μl) who were all virally suppressed (<100 copies/ml) were selected. Higher levels of monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 associated with lower fractional anisotropy and higher mean diffusivity (P < 0.05) across white matter tracts including corpus callosum, corona radiata, and superior longitudinal fasciculus. Higher neopterin associated with higher mean diffusivity in the genu of corpus callosum, and higher soluble CD14 associated with lower fractional anisotropy in the bilateral superior corona radiata (P < 0.05). Worse global performance and speed domain scores associated with higher mean diffusivity and lower fractional anisotropy, and worse executive domain scores associated with lower fractional anisotropy (P < 0.05).
Conclusion: Elevated inflammatory plasma biomarkers link to white matter abnormalities among virally suppressed individuals. DTI abnormalities associate to cognitive performance. We conclude that inflammatory processes impact clinically relevant brain health indices despite viral suppression.