Exosomal MicroRNAs Associate With Neuropsychological Performance in Individuals With HIV Infection on Antiretroviral Therapy

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2019 Dec 15;82(5):514-522. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000002187.


Background: Neurocognitive dysfunction remains prevalent among people living with HIV (PLWH), even after viral suppression on combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). We investigated associations between neuropsychological performance (NP) and patterns of circulating exosomal microRNA (exo-miRNA) expression in PLWH on cART.

Setting: A cross-sectional examination of plasma exo-miRNA among PLWH on cART with systemic viral suppression and volunteers without HIV infection.

Methods: Thirty-one PLWH who started cART during early infection (n = 19) or chronic infection (n = 12) participated in phlebotomy and an 11-test neuropsychological battery after >1 year on treatment. NP higher- or lower-performing participants were categorized based on normalized neuropsychological scores. Total RNA was extracted from purified exosomes of 31 PLWH and 5 volunteers without HIV and subject to small RNA sequencing. Differential expression of exo-miRNAs was examined and biological functions were predicted.

Results: Eleven exo-miRNAs were up-regulated in NP lower-performing (n = 18) relative to higher-performing PLWH (n = 13). A high proportion of the differentiating exo-miRNA target the axon guidance KEGG pathway and neurotrophin tyrosine receptor kinase signaling Gene Ontology pathway. Differential expression analysis of exo-miRNAs between NP lower- (n = 7) and higher-performing (n = 12) PLWH within the early infection group alone confirmed largely consistent findings.

Conclusions: Plasma exo-miRNA content differed between NP higher- and lower-performing PLWH. Several differentially expressed exo-miRNAs were predicted to be involved in inflammation and neurodegeneration pathways. Exo-miRNA in plasma may indicate cross-talk between the circulation and central nervous system and thus may be clinically relevant for neurocognitive dysfunction in PLWH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Exosomes / genetics
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / blood*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / blood*
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / virology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • MicroRNAs