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Why HIV patients develop dementia
Date:9/3/2014

Since the introduction of the combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART) in the mid-90s, the life expectancy of HIV patients has significantly improved. As a result, long-term complications are becoming more relevant: almost every second HIV patient is affected by neurocognitive disorders, which can lead to dementia. It has not as yet been fully understood how these disorders occur. Researchers from Bochum have now successfully demonstrated that infected cells activate specific immune cells in a patient's brain, which subsequently display harmful behaviour and lead to the destruction of neurons. These findings may help develop biomarkers to identify risk patients and to make a therapeutic strategy possible in the long term. The study was published in the trade journal Experimental Neurology.

Immune Cells in the Brain Under Suspicion

"HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders" (HAND) include disorders of the cognitive functions, motor capacities as well as behavioural changes. How exactly HAND occur has not, as yet, been fully understood. "Scientists assume that HIV is harmful to cells directly and that is also triggers indirect mechanisms that lead to nerve cell damage," explains Dr Simon Faissner (RUB clinic for neurology, St. Josef-Hospital). The researchers strongly suspect that, once activated in the brain and the spinal cord, immune cells keep up a chronic inflammation level which then results in the destruction of nerve cells. An immune activation in peripheral tissue as well as therapeutic consequences may likewise contribute to nerve cell damage in the brain.

First Steps of HIV Infection are Sufficient

The HI virus overcomes the blood-brain barrier hitchhiking on infected immune cells, the monocytes and probably the T cells. The researchers from Bochum tested the hypothesis that HIV-infected monocytes activate specific immune cells in the brain, the so-called microglial cells. These cells, in turn,
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Contact: Simon Faissner
simon.faissner@rub.de
49-234-509-2411
Ruhr-University Bochum
Source:Eurekalert

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