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

    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

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora