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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid