White matter microstructure among youth with perinatally acquired HIV is associated with disease severity

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Objectives:We investigated whether HIV disease severity was associated with alterations in structural brain connectivity, and whether those alterations in turn were associated with cognitive deficits in youth with perinatally acquired HIV (PHIV).Design:PHIV youth (n = 40) from the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) (mean age: 16 ± 2 years) were included to evaluate how current and past disease severity measures (recent/nadir CD4%; peak viral load) relate to white matter microstructure within PHIV youth. PHIV youth were compared with 314 controls from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition and Genetics (PING) study.Methods:Diffusion tensor imaging and tractography were utilized to assess white matter microstructure. Mediation analyses were conducted to examine whether microstructure alterations contributed to relationships between higher disease severity and specific cognitive domains in PHIV youth.Results:Whole brain fractional anisotropy was reduced, but radial and mean diffusivity were increased in PHIV compared with control youth. Within PHIV youth, more severe past HIV disease was associated with reduced fractional anisotropy of the right inferior fronto-occipital (IFO) and left uncinate tracts; elevated mean diffusivity of the F minor; and increased streamlines comprising the left inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). Associations of higher peak viral load with lower working memory performance were partly mediated by reductions in right IFO fractional anisotropy levels.Conclusion:Our findings suggest that PHIV youth have a higher risk of alterations in white matter microstructure than typically developing youth, and certain alterations are related to past disease severity. Further, white matter alterations potentially mediate associations between HIV disease and working memory.

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