Significant HIV-related brain damage in patients taking anti-HIV medications was reported by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center in a study published in the November 14 edition of the journal NeuroReport. The damage was detected (through magnetic resonance imaging, brain wave recordings, and behavioral tests) even in patients who had suppressed viral replication through drug treatment. Brain wave measurements were significantly different between HIV-negative and HIV-positive study subjects, including those not taking anti-HIV medications and those who had suppressed viral replication through antiretroviral cocktails. MRI exams also showed the brains of HIV-positive subjects were physically different, suggesting HIV-related damage.
'You see people on antiretroviral medications and they seem fine,' says lead study author Linda Chao. 'But the take-home message of our study is that antiviral medications might not be stopping brain damage. When we put patients' brains under closer scrutiny, we saw that they were affected.'
Although the study could not determine if any of the damage occurred after the study subjects began taking anti-HIV drugs, it is possible that HIV can still affect brain tissue even when the virus is suppressed in the bloodstream, the scientists wrote.