Accelerated biological ageing in HIV-infected individuals in South Africa: a case–control study

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Little is known about the impact of HIV infection on biological ageing in sub-Saharan Africa. The study aimed to assess biological ageing in South African HIV-infected adults and HIV-seronegative individuals using two validated biomarkers, telomere length and CDKN2A expression (a mediator of cellular senescence).


A case–control study.


Two hundred and thirty-six HIV-infected adults aged at least 30 years and 250 age and sex frequency matched HIV-seronegative individuals were recruited from clinics in township communities in Cape Town. Biological ageing was evaluated by measurement of telomere length and CDKN2A expression in peripheral blood leukocytes.


The median ages of the HIV-infected and HIV-seronegative participants were 39 and 40 years, respectively. Among HIV-infected participants, 87.1% were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), their median CD4+ cell count was 468 cells/μl and 84.3% had undetectable viral load. Both biomarkers were validated against chronological age in HIV-seronegative individuals. Telomere length was significantly shorter in HIV-infected individuals than in HIV-seronegative individuals (mean relative T/S ratio ±SE:0.91 ± 0.007 vs. 1.07 ± 0.008, P < 0.0001). CD2NKA expression was higher in HIV-infected participants than in HIV-seronegative individuals (mean expression: 0.45 ± 0.02 vs. 0.36 ± 0.03, P = 0.003). Socioeconomic factors were not associated with biological ageing in HIV-infected participants. However, in participants on ART with undetectable viral load, biomarker levels indicated greater biological ageing in those with lower current CD4+ cell counts.


Telomere length and CDKN2A expression were both consistent with increased biological ageing in HIV-infected individuals. Prospective studies of the impact of HIV on biological ageing in sub-Saharan Africa are warranted.

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