Untangling HIV Infection and Premature Aging

While antiretroviral treatment can allow individuals with HIV to enjoy many more years of life than they might earlier have predicted, the same individuals seem to be vulnerable to losing an average of 5 years of life because of premature aging.

The outcomes of the study, which made use of an extremely accurate biomarker to evaluate biological aging, are presented in Molecular Cell.

HIV is a virus that, once contracted, never completely leaves the body.

The virus strikes the immune system, growing vulnerability to infections and disease, which includes infection-related cancers. Without therapy, the sufferer can develop AIDS.

Even though there is no treatment for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART), if properly used, can keep the sufferer healthy and prolong the person’s life to nearly what it would have been without HIV.

Investigators from the University of Nebraska in Omaha, and the University of California in San Diego, teamed up to figure out more about how chronic HIV infection impacts aging.

The research engaged 137 sufferers with HIV but no other health problems that could bias the outcomes. Individuals were previously registered in a long-term research to observe individuals with HIV who are getting combination antiretroviral treatment.

It engaged a control group of 44 HIV-negative people. An independent group of 48 subjects, both HIV positive and negative, was used to confirm the results.

Examining methylation to discover epigenetic modifications.

The study team used a new tool to research epigenetic modifications in individual’s cells. Epigenetic modifications are those that modify the DNA but not the DNA sequence.

After these modifications occur, they are passed down from one generation of cells to the next, impacting gene expression.

The present study targeted on methylation as a biomarker to show a particular epigenetic change. Methylation takes place when small chemical groups attach to the DNA, and it can impact how genes are converted into proteins.

Outcomes recommend that HIV infection causes an average advance in biological aging of 4.9 years, and is connected with a  19% enhanced risk of death rate.

Co-author of the study Trey Ideker says

Earlier researches have proven that methylation alters the genome as we age.

This is often known as entropy or genetic drift. It stays unclear how these modifications give rise to the symptoms of aging, but it is feasible to evaluate the modifications within human cells.

The authors did not assume to see such a strong aging effect. They were also amazed to see that there was no variation among the methylation patterns in people who had been infected for below 5 years and those who had had the infection for over 12 years.

Co-author Prof. Howard Fox, states that:

“The medical concerns in treating individuals with HIV have changed. We are no longer as concerned about infections that come from being immunocompromised. Now we get worried about conditions related to aging, like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment and liver issues.”

The authors think that medicines could gradually be developed to target the types of epigenetic modifications that affect this population group.

Meanwhile, the investigators call for greater awareness among individuals with HIV infection about the risk of developing age-related conditions. They urge sufferers to reduce the risks by making healthy lifestyle choices like as training regularly, maintaining a healthy diet and staying away from hazardous drug, alcohol and tobacco use.