Nav: Home

HIV infection prematurely ages humans by an average of 5 years

April 21, 2016

Thanks to combination antiretroviral therapy, many people with HIV can be expected to live decades after being infected. Yet doctors have observed that these patients often show signs of premature aging. Now a study published April 21 in Molecular Cell has applied a highly accurate biomarker to measure just how much HIV infection ages people at the biological level--an average of almost 5 years.

"The medical issues in treating people with HIV have changed," says Howard Fox, a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and one of the authors of the new study. "We're no longer as worried about infections that come from being immunocompromised. Now we worry about diseases related to aging, like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment, and liver problems."

The tool used in the new study looks at epigenetic changes in people's cells. Epigenetic changes affect the DNA, but not the DNA sequence. Once they occur, they are passed down from one generation of cell to the next, influencing how genes are expressed. The particular epigenetic change used as a biomarker in this research was methylation, the process by which small chemical groups are attached to DNA. Methylation of DNA can impact how genes get translated into proteins.

"What we've seen in previous studies is that as we age, methylation across the entire genome changes," says Trey Ideker, a Professor of Genetics in the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Diego and the study's other corresponding author. "Some people call it entropy or genetic drift. Although we're not sure of the exact mechanism by which these epigenetic changes lead to symptoms of aging, it's a trend that we can measure inside people's cells."

The 137 patients included in the analysis were enrolled in CHARTER (the CNS Antiretroviral Therapy Effects Research study), a long-term study aimed at monitoring HIV-infected individuals who are being treated with combination antiretroviral therapy. Subjects who were chosen didn't have other health conditions that could skew the results. 44 HIV-negative control subjects were also included in the initial analysis. An independent group of 48 subjects, both HIV positive and negative, was used to confirm the findings.

In addition to the discovery that HIV infection led to an average advance in biological aging of 4.9 years, the researchers note that such a change correlates with an increased risk of mortality of 19%.

"We set out to look at the effects of HIV infection on methylation, and I was surprised that we found such a strong aging effect," Ideker says.

"Another thing that was surprising was that there was no difference between the methylation patterns in those people who were recently infected [less than five years] and those with chronic infection [more than 12 years]," Fox adds.

The investigators say it's possible drugs could eventually be developed to target the kinds of epigenetic changes observed in the study. But the more immediate implications are much simpler: they note that people infected with HIV should be aware that they're of greater risk for age-related diseases and work to diminish those risks by making healthy lifestyle choices regarding exercise, diet, and drug, alcohol, and tobacco use.
-end-
This study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Molecular Cell, Gross et al: "Methylome-wide analysis of chronic HIV infection reveals five-year increase in biological age and epigenetic targeting of HLA" http://www.cell.com/molecular-cell/fulltext/S1097-2765(16)30002-8

Molecular Cell (@MolecularCell), published by Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that focuses on analyses at the molecular level, with an emphasis on new mechanistic insights. The scope of the journal encompasses all of "traditional" molecular biology as well as studies of the molecular interactions and mechanisms that underlie basic cellular processes. Learn more: http://www.cell.com/molecular-cell. To receive Cell Press media alerts, please contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Hiv Articles:

Defective HIV proviruses reduce effective immune system response, interfere with HIV cure
A new study finds defective HIV proviruses, long thought to be harmless, produce viral proteins and distract the immune system from killing intact proviruses needed to reduce the HIV reservoir and cure HIV.
1 in 7 people living with HIV in the EU/EEA are not aware of their HIV status
Almost 30,000 newly diagnosed HIV infections were reported by the 31 European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries in 2015, according to data published today by ECDC and the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
Smoking may shorten the lifespan of people living with HIV more than HIV itself
A new study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital finds that cigarette smoking substantially reduces the lifespan of people living with HIV in the US, potentially even more than HIV itself.
For smokers with HIV, smoking may now be more harmful than HIV itself
HIV-positive individuals who smoke cigarettes may be more likely to die from smoking-related disease than the infection itself, according to a new study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Patients diagnosed late with HIV infection are more likely to transmit HIV to others
An estimated 1.2 million people live with HIV in the United States, with nearly 13 percent being unaware of their infection.
The Lancet HIV: New HIV infections stagnating at 2.5 million a year worldwide
A major new analysis from the Global Burden of Disease 2015 study, published today in The Lancet HIV journal, reveals that although deaths from HIV/AIDS have been steadily declining from a peak in 2005, 2.5 million people worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2015, a number that hasn't changed substantially in the past 10 years.
NIH scientists discover that defective HIV DNA can encode HIV-related proteins
Investigators from the National Institutes of Health have discovered that cells from HIV-infected people whose virus is suppressed with treatment harbor defective HIV DNA that can nevertheless be transcribed into a template for producing HIV-related proteins.
Study examines risk of HIV transmission from condomless sex with virologically suppressed HIV infection
Among nearly 900 serodifferent (one partner is HIV-positive, one is HIV-negative) heterosexual and men who have sex with men couples in which the HIV-positive partner was using suppressive antiretroviral therapy and who reported condomless sex, during a median follow-up of 1.3 years per couple, there were no documented cases of within-couple HIV transmission, according to a study appearing in the July 12 issue of JAMA, an HIV/AIDS theme issue.
HIV vaccine design should adapt as HIV virus mutates
Researchers from UAB, Emory and Microsoft demonstrate that HIV has evolved to be pre-adapted to the immune response, worsening clinical outcomes in newly infected patients.
Charlie Sheen's HIV disclosure may reinvigorate awareness, prevention of HIV
Actor Charlie Sheen's public disclosure in November 2015 that he has the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) corresponded with the greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the United States, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Related Hiv Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".