Individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) appear to age faster than the general population, possibly related to HIV infection, antiretroviral therapy, and/or social/environmental factors. We evaluated leukocyte telomere length (LTL), a marker of cellular aging, in HIV-infected and uninfected adults.
Clinical data and blood were collected from Children and women: AntiRetrovirals and the Mechanism of Aging (CARMA) cohort study participants. Variables found to be important in univariate analysis were multivariate model candidates.
Of the 229 HIV-infected and 166 HIV-uninfected participants, 76% were women, and 71% were current/previous smokers. In a multivariate model of all participants, older age (P < .001), HIV infection (P = .04), active hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection (P = .02), and smoking (P < .003) were associated with shorter LTL. An interaction was detected, whereby smoking was associated with shorter LTL in HIV-uninfected subjects only. Among those, age and smoking (P ≤ .01) were related to shorter LTL. In 2 models of HIV-infected individuals, age (P ≤ .002) and either active HCV infection (P = .05) or peak HIV RNA ≥100 000 copies/mL (P = .04) were associated with shorter LTL, whereas other HIV disease or treatment parameters were unrelated.
Our results suggest that acquisition of HIV and viral load are primarily responsible for the association between HIV-positive status and shorter LTL. The lack of association between LTL and time since HIV diagnosis, antiretroviral treatment, or degree of immune suppression would implicate HIV infection-related factors rather than disease progression or treatment. Smoking effects on LTL appear masked by HIV, and HCV infection may accelerate LTL shortening, particularly in coinfected individuals. The effect of early therapeutic intervention on LTL in HIV and HCV infections should be evaluated.