HIV, Vascular Risk Factors, and Cognition in the Combination Antiretroviral Therapy Era: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2021 Apr;27(4):365-381. doi: 10.1017/S1355617720001022. Epub 2020 Nov 9.


Objectives: Mounting evidence indicates that vascular risk factors (VRFs) are elevated in HIV and play a significant role in the development and persistence of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder. Given the increased longevity of people living with HIV (PLWH), there is a great need to better elucidate vascular contributions to neurocognitive impairment in HIV. This systematic review and meta-analysis examine relationships between traditional VRFs, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and cognition in PLWH in the combination antiretroviral therapy era.

Methods: For the systematic review, 44 studies met inclusion criteria and included data from 14,376 PLWH and 6,043 HIV-seronegative controls. To better quantify the contribution of VRFs to cognitive impairment in HIV, a robust variance estimation meta-analysis (N = 11 studies) was performed and included data from 2139 PLWH.

Results: In the systematic review, cross-sectional and longitudinal studies supported relationships between VRFs, cognitive dysfunction, and decline, particularly in the domains of attention/processing speed, executive functioning, and fine motor skills. The meta-analysis demonstrated VRFs were associated with increased odds of global neurocognitive impairment (odds ratio [OR ]= 2.059, p = .010), which remained significant after adjustment for clinical HIV variables (p = .017). Analyses of individual VRFs demonstrated type 2 diabetes (p = .004), hyperlipidemia (p = .043), current smoking (p = .037), and previous CVD (p = .0005) were significantly associated with global neurocognitive impairment.

Conclusions: VRFs and CVD are associated with worse cognitive performance and decline, and neurocognitive impairment in PLWH. Future studies are needed to examine these relationships in older adults with HIV, and investigate how race/ethnicity, gender, medical comorbidities, and psychosocial factors contribute to VRF-associated cognitive dysfunction in HIV.

Keywords: Cardiovascular diseases; Cognitive aging; Diabetes mellitus; Highly active antiretroviral therapy; Neurocognitive disorders; Vascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors