HIV has been infecting humans for approximately a hundred years and thanks to the advancement of science, it is now possible for people with HIV to live for decades after infection. Patients are now treated with a combination of antiretroviral drugs that target the different stages of the HIV life cycle.
Professor Howard Fox from the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience, University of Nebraska Medical Center, says “The medical issues in treating people with HIV have changed. We’re no longer as worried about infections that come from being immunocompromised. Now we worry about diseases related to ageing, like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment, and liver problems.”
This long-term study looked at 137 individuals who are being treated with combination antiretroviral therapy. They observed that even though HIV-infected individuals were living longer, many patients were displaying signs of premature ageing.
An effective way of measuring the age of cells is to track epigenetic changes that affect DNA but not the DNA sequence. In this study, they looked at the methylation patterns of DNA in HIV+ individuals and healthy individuals and found that this genetic drift could be observed in HIV+ individuals. In fact, it lead to a 4.9 year age advancement with a 19% increased mortality risk. Additionally, there appeared to be no difference between those that were recently infected (<5 years) and those with chronic infections (>5 years).
Hypomethylation was also observed at the region encoding the human leukocyte antigen locus (HLA), further confirming the link between age-related diseases and biological ageing. The authors of this paper want to increase awareness of the life-style choices associated with an ageing biological clock, hope that eventually drugs targeting these epigenetic changes could be developed.