Through implementation of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) remarkable gains have been achieved in the management of HIV infection; nonetheless, the neurocognitive consequences of infection remain a pivotal concern in the cART era. Research has often employed norm-referenced neuropsychological scores, derived from healthy populations (excluding many seronegative individuals at high risk for HIV infection), to characterize impairments in predominately male HIV-infected populations.
Using matched-group methodology, we assessed 81 HIV-seropositive (HIV+) women with established neuropsychological measures validated for detection of HIV-related impairments, as well as additional detailed tests of executive function and decision-making from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB).
On validated tests, the HIV+ women exhibited impairments that were limited to significantly slower information processing speed when compared with 45 HIV-seronegative (HIV-) women with very similar demographic backgrounds and illness comorbidities. Additionally, select executive impairments in shifting attention (i.e., reversal learning) and in decision-making quality were revealed in HIV+ participants. Modifiers of neurocognition in HIV-infected women included detectable HIV plasma viral load, active hepatitis C virus co-infection, and self-reported depression symptoms. In contrast, leukocyte telomere length (LTL), a marker of cellular aging, did not significantly differ between HIV+ and HIV- women, nor was LTL associated with overall neurocognition in the HIV+ group.
The findings suggest that well-managed HIV infection may entail a more circumscribed neurocognitive deficit pattern than that reported in many norm-referenced studies, and that common comorbidities make a secondary contribution to HIV-related neurocognitive impairments.