Objective: To compare rates and anatomical patterns of brain atrophy during 3 stages of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease.
Design: Comparisons of multiple serial brain magnetic resonance images in men without HIV infection and HIV-infected men in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, Atlanta, Ga) stages A, B, and C.
Setting: Longitudinal cohort study of the San Diego HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center, San Diego, Calif.
Participants: Eighty-six HIV-1-positive (HIV-positive) and 23 HIV-negative men who were similar in age and risk group. The number of HIV-positive men in each CDC stage was as follows: A, 33; B, 19; C, 34. All HIV-positive men were free of clinically detectable opportunistic neurologic illness.
Main outcome measures: Regional volumes of serial magnetic resonance images converted to standardized slope estimates of change in regional volumes of interest.
Results: Medically asymptomatic men (CDC stage A) and medically symptomatic men (CDC stage C) had more rapid loss of cortical tissues than did HIV-negative men as manifested by higher slopes (Tukey honestly significant difference test, P=.02 and P=.001, respectively) for cortical fluid volume. Accelerated ventricular volume enlargement occurred only in men with CDC stage C disease. Reduction in the volume of white matter was accelerated in participants with CDC stage C disease compared with participants with CDC stage A disease. Of the gray matter regions, only the caudate nucleus sustained accelerated volume loss during CDC stage C disease. Participants whose systemic disease progressed to a higher CDC stage had significantly accelerated ventricular volume increases and caudate atrophy. Rates of cortical and subcortical fluid volume increases and reductions in the volumes of white matter and the caudate nucleus were significantly related to the rate of decline in the CD4+ lymphocyte count.
Conclusions: In the absence of cerebral opportunistic disease, HIV infection causes progressive atrophy within the gray and white matter in the brain. These changes were most severe in the most advanced stage of disease but were evident even in medically asymptomatic HIV-positive persons. Within the gray matter, the caudate nucleus exhibited progressive volume loss linked to disease stage and the rate of decline of the CD4+ cell count. Structural brain changes can begin in the early stages of HIV infection and accelerate during advanced illness.