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Study shows HIV speeds up body’s aging processes soon after infection

by Pragati Singh

According to UCLA researchers and colleagues, HIV has a “early and profound” influence on ageing in infected persons, increasing biological changes in the body linked with normal ageing within two to three years of infection.

According to the findings, a new HIV infection can shorten an individual’s life expectancy by approximately five years when compared to an uninfected person.

“Our work demonstrates that even in the early months and years of living with HIV, the virus has already set into motion an accelerated aging process at the DNA level,” said lead author Elizabeth Crabb Breen, a professor emerita at UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “This emphasizes the critical importance of early HIV diagnosis and an awareness of aging-related problems, as well as the value of preventing HIV infection in the first place.”

Previous study has revealed that HIV and antiretroviral treatments used to control the infection are linked to an earlier start of age-related diseases such as heart and renal disease, frailty, and cognitive impairments.

The researchers examined blood samples from 102 males taken six months or fewer before they got infected with HIV and again two to three years later. They compared them to samples collected during the same time period from 102 non-infected males of the same age. According to the authors, this is the first study to compare infected and non-infected patients in this way. All of the men were part of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Research, a countrywide study that began in 1984.

The researchers were interested in how HIV impacts epigenetic DNA methylation, a mechanism that cells utilise to turn genes on and off during normal physiological changes. Epigenetic modifications are those that occur as a result of the environment, people’s behaviour, or other external causes, such as disease, that impact how genes operate without affecting the genes themselves.

The researchers looked at five epigenetic indicators of ageing. Four of them are epigenetic “clocks,” with each taking a somewhat different technique to estimating biological age acceleration in years relative to chronological age.

The fifth measure assessed the length of telomeres, the protective cap-like ends of chromosomes that become progressively shorter with age as cells divide, until they become so short that division is no longer possible.

HIV-infected individuals showed significant age acceleration in each of the four epigenetic clock measurements — ranging from 1.9 to 4.8 years — as well as telomere shortening over the period beginning just before infection and ending two to three years after, in the absence of highly active antiretroviral treatment. Similar age acceleration was not seen in the non-infected participants over the same time interval.

“Our access to rare, well-characterized samples allowed us to design this study in a way that leaves little doubt about the role of HIV in eliciting biological signatures of early aging,” said senior author Beth Jamieson, a professor in the division of hematology and oncology at the Geffen School. “Our long-term goal is to determine whether we can use any of these signatures to predict whether an individual is at increased risk for specific aging-related disease outcomes, thus exposing new targets for intervention therapeutics.”

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The study had certain drawbacks, according to the researchers. Because it exclusively involved men, the results may not be applicable to women. Furthermore, the proportion of non-white individuals was modest, and the sample size was insufficient to account for the long-term effects of highly active antiretroviral therapy or to predict clinical outcomes.

According to the experts, there is still no agreement on what constitutes normal ageing or how to characterise it.

The Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, or MACS, is a large-scale research effort that examines the natural and treated history of HIV infection and AIDS using demographic characteristics, habits, illness history, and sexual history among men who have sex with males.

Source: University of California – Los Angeles Health Sciences


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