HIV infection can accelerate aging in the first two to three years of infection, study finds

Living with HIV can have an immediate effect on how your body ages, according to new research that showed cellular aging was accelerated in male patients within two to three years of infection.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) analyzed blood samples from more than 200 men to compare those infected with HIV with a control group that did not have HIV, and scored them on five different measures of aging.

The study, published Thursday in the iScience magazinefound that people living with HIV aged 2 to 5 years earlier than their uninfected counterparts within three years of infection.

“Our work shows that even in the first few months and years of living with HIV, the virus has already set in motion an accelerated aging process at the DNA level,” said Elizabeth Crabb Breen, professor emeritus at the Cousins ​​Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. from UCLA and lead author of the study, he said in a press release. “This emphasizes the critical importance of early HIV diagnosis and awareness of issues related to aging, as well as the value of preventing HIV infection in the first place.”

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to serious illness, even from minor illnesses or medical problems. In advanced stages, it can lead to AIDS, in which the immune system is severely damaged. There is no cure for HIV, but those living with HIV can safely control it and prevent transmission with current treatments.

As of 2018 data, around 62,000 people in Canada are living with HIV.

Scientists have previously theorized that HIV and antiretroviral therapies that keep the infection in check could contribute to this accelerated aging, but this is one of the first studies directly comparing infected and uninfected people to look at this question, according to the release. .

The researchers used data from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, an ongoing study that began in 1984.

They examined blood samples taken from 102 before they became infected with HIV and then two to three years after infection, and compared these patients with samples taken from 102 men of the same age during the same time period.

But how can blood show its aging? Examining the question at the subcellular level.

The researchers used the lens of epigenetics, which is the study of how your environment and behavior change the way your genes work; for example, whether your body will follow genetic instructions to create a specific protein, or whether epigenetic changes will have converted that gene. off”.

Some epigenetic changes are reversible and others are progressive, like how aging affects our gene expression.

By looking at how HIV affects DNA methylation, a type of epigenetic change that turns genes off and prevents them from reading the instructions to make certain proteins, the researchers measured different markers of aging within the samples.

Four of these are known as “epigenetic clocks” and involve comparing different levels of methylation, lymphocytes, or other markers to an established norm.

The last of the five indicators of aging was looking at the length of telomeres, which are the ends of chromosomes that shorten each time cells divide, until they become so short that cell division is no longer possible, one of the many glades. measures of the age of a body, as our bodies are constantly aging from the time we have more dying cells than replicating cells within us.

What the researchers found was that in HIV patients, there was a significant acceleration in age across all five measures of aging just before infection and ending two to three years later.

“This clearly demonstrates an early and substantial impact of HIV infection on the epigenetic aging process that begins in the first few months and years of living with HIV,” the study states.

“Getting and living with HIV for just three years or less is already associated with about a 20 percent increased risk of shortening life.”

No accelerated aging was observed in the uninfected control group in that time period.

The associations persisted even after the researchers controlled for other factors in the men’s lives that might be contributing to accelerated aging.

“Our access to rare, well-characterized samples allowed us to design this study in a way that leaves little doubt about the role of HIV in eliciting biosignatures of early aging,” said Beth Jamieson, a professor in the division of hematology and oncology at the Geffen School and the lead author said in the statement. “Our long-term goal is to determine if we can use any of these signatures to predict whether an individual is at increased risk for specific age-related disease outcomes, thus exposing new targets for interventional therapy.”

The researchers noted that the study was limited by its small sample size, as well as being composed exclusively of men and primarily white men, which means larger studies need to be done to make sure these results apply to all. the scopes.

Although this is the largest study of its kind, it only followed patients up to three years after infection.

The researchers say more research is needed to determine whether this accelerated aging is sustained throughout the life of a person with HIV and whether it predicts longer-term clinical outcomes.

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