Scientists Identify Biochemical Abnormality That May Explain Link Between HIV, Dementia
HIV/AIDS patients with early signs of dementia have depleted levels of the brain chemical dopamine, according to a study published in the September issue of the British journal Brain, Long Island Newsday reports. Researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state performed brain scans on 15 HIV-positive patients, some of whom had signs of dementia, and 13 HIV-negative volunteers. Researchers for the first time found in living HIV-positive individuals evidence of a 12% to 20% loss of dopamine cells. Recent studies on the brains of cadavers of HIV-positive patients with dementia also showed a loss of dopamine cells. However, test-tube and animal studies show that current dopamine-enhancing medicines might leave the dopamine brain cells more vulnerable to attack from HIV, Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, lead author of the study, said (Talan, Long Island Newsday, 9/21). The study could lead to new, more effective therapies for AIDS-related dementia, which is more common in the later stages of HIV infection, according to a Brookhaven press release. "This study clearly demonstrates that HIV infection damages dopamine-associated brain cells and provides a pathway for developing more effective treatments," Nora Volkow, National Institute on Drug Abuse director and co-investigator on the study, said (Brookhaven National Laboratory release, 9/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.