Reductions in Gray Matter Linked to Epigenetic HIV-Associated Accelerated Aging

Cereb Cortex. 2021 Jul 5;31(8):3752-3763. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhab045.


A growing literature suggests a relationship between HIV-infection and a molecular profile of age acceleration. However, despite the widely known high prevalence of HIV-related brain atrophy and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), epigenetic age acceleration has not been linked to HIV-related changes in structural MRI. We applied morphological MRI methods to study the brain structure of 110 virally suppressed participants with HIV infection and 122 uninfected controls age 22-72. All participants were assessed for cognitive impairment, and blood samples were collected from a subset of 86 participants with HIV and 83 controls to estimate epigenetic age. We examined the group-level interactive effects of HIV and chronological age and then used individual estimations of epigenetic age to understand the relationship between age acceleration and brain structure. Finally, we studied the effects of HAND. HIV-infection was related to gray matter reductions, independent of age. However, using epigenetic age as a biomarker for age acceleration, individual HIV-related age acceleration was associated with reductions in total gray matter. HAND was associated with decreases in thalamic and hippocampal gray matter. In conclusion, despite viral suppression, accentuated gray matter loss is evident with HIV-infection, and greater biological age acceleration specifically relates to such gray matter loss.

Keywords: HAND; HIV; MRI; epigenetics.