According to new research developed by UCLA scientists, theHIV leads to accelerated aging of the body, immediately after contracting the infection. The virus accelerates biological changes in the body associated with normal aging within just two to three years of infection. Findings from the study suggest that HIV infection can shorten an individual’s lifespan by nearly five years compared to an uninfected person.
The results of the Research have been published in the scientific journal iScience.
Accelerated Aging and HIV Infection: Here’s What the Study Says.
“Our work shows that even in the first months and years of living with HIV, the virus has already set in motion an accelerated aging process at the DNA level.“Said the lead author Elizabeth Crabb Breen, Professor Emerita at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunologyand the Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine: “This underlines the fundamental importance of early HIV diagnosis and awareness of the problems associated with aging, as well as the value of preventing HIV infection in the first place ”.
Previous work has revealed that HIV and antiretroviral therapies commonly used to control infection are associated with an early onset of age-related conditions typically associated with accelerated aging, such as heart and kidney disease, frailty and cognitive difficulties. .
Scientists carefully studied blood samples from 100 men collected six months or less before they were infected with HIV and again two to three years after infection.. They compared them with matching samples from 100 uninfected men of the same age taken over the same time period. All participated in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, a 35-year national study that ran from 1984 to 2019. The researchers said this is the first research comparing infected and uninfected people in this way.
Researchers focused on how HIV affects DNA epigenetic methylation, a process used by cells to turn genes on or off during normal physiological changes. Epigenetic changes are those made in response to the influence of the environment, people’s behaviors or other external factors, such as disease, that affect the behavior of genes without changing the genes themselves.
Scientists have carefully studied five epigenetic measures of aging. Four of them are what are known as epigenetic “clocks,” each using a slightly different approach to estimate the acceleration of biological age in years, versus chronological age. The fifth measure assessed the length of telomeres, the protective ends of cap-shaped chromosomes that progressively shorten with age as cells divide, until they become so short that division is no longer possible.
HIV-infected individuals showed a significant acceleration of age in each of the four epigenetic clock measurements, ranging from 1.9 to 4.8 years, as well as shortening of telomeres in the period starting just before infection. and ends two to three years later, in the absence of antiretroviral treatment. A similar acceleration in age was not observed in uninfected participants over the same time interval.
“Our access to rare and well-characterized samples allowed us to design this study in a way that leaves little doubt about the role of HIV in eliciting the biological traces of accelerated aging.Said the senior author Beth JamiesonProfessor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Geffen School: “Our long-term goal is to determine if we can use one of these traces to predict whether an individual is at increased risk for specific aging-related disease outcomes, thus exposing new targets for therapeutic interventions. “
It is fair to specify that the researchers themselves noted some limitations to the study: only men were involved, so the results may not be applicable to women; the number of non-white participants was small; the sample size was insufficient to consider the subsequent effects of highly active antiretroviral therapy or to predict clinical outcomes.
Other research has shown that antiretroviral therapy administered for over two years has not been able to fully restore age-appropriate epigenetic patterns, leaving patients more susceptible to accelerated aging diseases.
To reach this conclusion, researchers examined DNA from 15 HIV-infected people at three points: 6 to 12 months before starting antiretroviral therapy, 6 to 12 months after starting therapy, and again , 18 to 24 months after being put on therapy. the research team then compared those samples with the DNA of 15 individuals of the same age, not infected with HIV.
The results thus obtained suggest that altered epigenetics may help explain why even successfully treated HIV-infected adults are at greater risk for the early development of many diseases more commonly associated with accelerated aging.
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