A class of anti-retroviral drugs commonly used to treat HIV, particularly in Africa and low income countries, can cause premature ageing, according to research published today in the journal Nature Genetics. The study shows that the drugs damage DNA in the patient's mitochondria the 'batteries' which power their cells.
The findings may explain why HIV-infected people treated with antiretroviral drugs sometimes show advanced signs of frailty and age-associated diseases such as cardiovascular disease and dementia at an early age.
Nucleoside analogue reverse-transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) of which the most well known is Zidovudine, also known as AZT were the first class of drug developed to treat HIV. They were a major breakthrough in the treatment of the disease, greatly extending lifespan and leading the condition to be seen as a chronic, rather than terminal, condition.
In high income countries, such as Europe and North America, the older NRTIs are used less commonly now due to concerns over toxicity and side-effects when taken over a long period of time. However, as they are now off-licence and hence relatively cheap, the drugs have proved to be an important lifeline for people infected with HIV in Africa and low income countries.
Professor Patrick Chinnery, a Wellcome Senior Fellow in Clinical Science from the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University, says: "HIV clinics were seeing patients who had otherwise been successfully treated but who showed signs of being much older than their years. This was a real mystery. But colleagues recognised many similarities with patients affected by mitochondrial diseases conditions that affect energy production in our cells and referred them to our clinic."
Mitochondria are the 'batteries' in our cells which provide them with the energy to carry out their functions. During natural human ageing, these mitochondria acquire mutations, though it is unclear
|Contact: Craig Brierley|