Shorter telomere length : a potential susceptibility factor for HIV-associated neurocognitive impairments in South African woman

Malan-Muller, Stefanie ; Hemmings, Sian M. J. ; Spies, Georgina ; Kidd, Martin ; Fennema-Notestine, Christine ; Seedat, Soraya (2013-03)

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

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The neuropathogenesis of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may manifest as various neurocognitive impairments (NCI). HIV-positive individuals also have significantly shorter telomere length (TL) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and CD8+ T cells compared to HIV-negative individuals. Additionally, reduced TL has been found to be associated with chronic psychological stress. This study focused on the effects of HIV-infection and chronic stress associated with childhood trauma on telomere length, and investigated whether leukocyte TL (LTL), in particular, represents a risk factor for NCI. Eighty-three HIV-positive and 45 HIV-negative women were assessed for childhood trauma and were subjected to detailed neurocognitive testing. Blood from each participant was used to extract Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Relative LTL were determined by performing real time quantitative PCR reactions as described by Cawthon et al. (2002). As expected, relative LTL in the HIV-positive individuals was significantly shorter than that of HIV-negative individuals (F = 51.56, p=,0.01). Notably, a significant positive correlation was evident between relative LTL and learning performance in the HIVpositive group. In addition, a significant negative correlation was observed between relative LTL and verbal fluency, but this association was only evident in HIV-positive individuals who had experienced trauma. Our results suggest that reduced LTL is associated with worse learning performance in HIV-positive individuals, indicating that TL could act as a susceptibility factor in increasing neurocognitive decline in HIV-infected individuals.

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