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20 October 2017, 08:25
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HIV infection, even with ARV, damage a growing child's brain

HIV infection, even with ARV, damage a growing child's brain - picture 1

HIV infection alters brain development in young children, even when they receive antiretroviral treatment early in life, shows a report in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

Although advances in HIV therapy have enabled millions of people to live longer and healthier lives, the treatment of HIV-positive infants and children remains complex. HIV has been shown to cause abnormalities in a child's brain development, however therapeutic interventions can also harm a growing child, EurekAlert reports.

"Despite early antiretroviral therapy (started by the age of 18 months), we continue to observe white matter damage at the age of 7 years, " says Marcin Jankiewicz, a researcher at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and lead author of the study. "These observations in HIV-positive children point to ongoing disruptions in white matter development regardless of early antiretroviral therapy and viral suppression."

The researchers used an advanced magnetic resonance imaging technique, called diffusion tensor imaging, to look at differences in one type of brain tissue -- called white matter -- between groups of 65 HIV-positive and 46 uninfected 7-year-old children. White matter plays a critical role in transmitting information between distinct brain regions. The latest study confirmed ongoing microstructural differences in certain tracts between infected and uninfected children.

Jankiewicz hopes that these studies will contribute to a better understanding of brain development in HIV-infected and exposed children, as well as the impact of long-term antiretroviral treatment.

"We hope that our work will eventually help identify the parts of the brain that are particularly vulnerable to HIV and/or antiretroviral therapy and clarify how the timing of therapy affects brain development," says Jankiewicz. "This could inform treatment policy, help improve drug combinations, and guide early intervention strategies."

Author: Lilia Ten

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