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STUDY: People With HIV Age 14 Years Faster

STUDY: People With HIV Age 14 Years Faster


New study shows evidence HIV accelerates age-related diseases.

HIV positive patients may be living longer, but they may also be aging faster than expected. A new study published today in PLOS One shows that HIV-positive people are at an increased risk of age-related diseases such as some cancers, frailty, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and neurocognitive disease.

Researchers think that it is the HIV itself that accelerates the aging process by 14 years, rather than medications used to treat it. Scientists from the UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research and the Multi-Center AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) investigated whether the virus induced age-associated epigenetic changes (that is, changes to the DNA that then led to changes in expression of genes but do not change the genetic code). These kinds of transitions can be brought on by environmental factors or the aging process itself.

“While we were surprised by the number of epigenetic changes that were significantly associated with both aging and HIV-infection, we were most surprised that the data suggests HIV-infection can accelerate aging-related epigenetic changes by 13.7 to 14.7 years,” says Beth Jamieson, professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, director of the UCLA Flow Cytometry Core, and one of the study’s senior authors. “This number is in line with both anecdotal and published data suggesting that treated HIV-infected adults can develop the diseases of aging mentioned above, approximately a decade earlier than their uninfected peers.”

The researchers studied 96 samples of white blood cells that came from young and old HIV patients before they began ART. They extracted DNA and examined it for any changes.

They compared this pattern of changes with the pattern of changes associated with aging and found much overlap. From this data, they extrapolated the biological age of the HIV-infected patients and found that at a cellular and physiological level, the patients were 14 years older than their actual age.

There may be some limitations to the study, however. A previous study showed that HIV-positive men in treatment also had a higher risk for age-related illnesses, but it wasn't determined prior if it was caused by the HIV or other factors (such as medication). This new study involved only HIV-positive men before they had begun treatment, so researchers have yet to determine whether treatment may or may not have any impact on the aging process.

"We still need to determine whether treatment restores the aging-related methylation patterns to age appropriate status," Jamieson adds.

However, the researchers note, the data suggest that HIV accelerates some aspects of aging, and also that general aging and HIV-related aging have common mechanisms.

“These results are an important first step for finding potential therapeutic approaches to mitigate the effects of both HIV and aging,” they wrote. 

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