Lower CSF homovanillic acid relates to higher burden of neuroinflammation and depression in people with HIV disease

Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Nov:90:353-363. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.09.012. Epub 2020 Sep 20.


Background: HIV-related neuroinflammation has been proposed as a catalyst for dopaminergic dysregulation in mesocortical pathways, which may contribute to the pathogenesis of depression. Abnormalities in dopaminergic neurotransmission and depression are common in people with HIV (PWH), however the link between dopamine (DA) and depression in PWH is poorly characterized. This study investigated CSF dopaminergic biomarkers, specifically DA and its metabolite, homovanillic acid (HVA), and examined their relationship with depressive symptoms and CSF neuroinflammatory markers in PWH and HIV-seronegative (HIV-) individuals.

Methods: Participants were 102 HIV- individuals and 123 PWH (mean age = 42) who underwent neuropsychiatric evaluations and lumbar puncture. Current depression severity was classified using the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II). CSF was assayed for DA and HVA using high performance liquid chromatography and neuroinflammatory markers using immunoassays. Linear regressions modelled BDI-II scores as a function of HIV, dopaminergic biomarker z-scores, and their interaction, controlling for psychosocial factors. Correlational analyses examined dopaminergic and neuroinflammatory relationships.

Results: PWH had significantly higher BDI-II scores than HIV- participants. DA and HVA were not associated with HIV status but both significantly moderated the effect of HIV on BDI-II scores, such that PWH exhibited higher depressive symptoms than HIV- participants only at lower concentrations of HVA (z ≤ 0.06) and DA (z ≤ 0.11). In PWH only, lower HVA significantly correlated with higher BDI-II scores and higher neuroinflammation, including higher MCP-1 and IP-10.

Conclusions: Results suggest that the pathophysiology of depression in PWH differs from that in HIV- individuals. Specifically, lower central dopaminergic activity was selectively associated with greater depressive symptoms and neuroinflammation in PWH. With the rise in consideration of DA agonists for the treatment of depression, these results suggest that PWH may show a greater response to these agents than their HIV- peers.

Keywords: Depression; Dopamine; HIV; Homovanillic acid; IP-10; Inflammation; MCP-1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Depression*
  • Dopamine
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • Homovanillic Acid
  • Humans


  • Biomarkers
  • Dopamine
  • Homovanillic Acid