News / Health

Scientists Unravel Mystery of HIV-Linked Brain Problems, Depression

Jessica Berman
Researchers believe they have determined why some HIV-positive patients who are on antiretroviral therapy and show no signs of disease develop serious depression and memory problems. The discovery may pave the way for a test to determine who is at risk for HIV-related depression and other brain difficulties.

Related video report by Vidushi Sinha

Researchers Say HIV Attacks the Brain and Causes Dementiai
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Vidushi Sinha
July 25, 2012 11:18 PM
Researchers say they have found the cause of dementia and depression-like symptoms that afflict more than fifty percent of HIV-positive people during their lifetimes. As VOA's Vidushi Sinha reports, their finding could point the way to new treatments.
Severe HIV-related dementia is extremely rare in patients who are taking anti-retroviral drugs. But experts say a milder form of brain impairment, which includes depression, and memory and motor difficulties, is common.  

"A very high percent of HIV-infected individuals develop neurological disorders that are not half [as] severe as HIV dementia but can be pretty disrupting for these patients," said Alessia Bachis, a neuroscientist and researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington D.C.

She and her colleagues appear to have uncovered the biological mechanism responsible for the milder brain problems, a development that could eventually lead to a test to determine who is at risk for neurological impairment.

It has to do with a protein growth factor called mature BDNF - short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor - which acts like "food" for brain cells or neurons.  While the AIDS virus does not attack brain cells directly, it interrupts the production of mature BDNF, leading to the shortening of neuronal axons and branches which connect one neuron to another.  When brain cells lose this ability to communicate through neuronal connections, they die, and brain function decreases.

The discovery stemmed from a 17-year-old, nationwide study involving 130 HIV-positive women. Investigators found when there was less BDNF in the blood, women were at risk for developing brain abnormalities.  In the latest research, scientists studying brain samples taken from patients who died of AIDS and who had developed HIV-associated dementia found that the patients' neurons had shrunk and there was a decrease in mature BDNF.

Bachis believes the mechanism that allows the AIDS virus to halt production of mature BDNF offers researchers a target for the development of a compound or molecule to treat cognitive problems and severe depression in people with the disease.

"And this molecule could be given to HIV-infected individuals as part of their daily regimen.  So it could be added to the anti-viral medications that they already take," Bachis said.

Researchers believe such a drug has the potential to also benefit elderly individuals and those afflicted with Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, all of whom show mental declines involving the same pathway.

The study by first author Alessia Bachis, lead investigator Italo Mocchetti and colleagues on the mechanism of HIV-associated dementia is published in Journal of Neuroscience.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid