Cognitive impairment severity in relation to signs of subclinical Wernicke's encephalopathy in HIV and alcoholism comorbidity

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Objectives:The comorbidity of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection and alcoholism (ALC) is prevalent. Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE), a neurological disorder resulting from thiamine depletion, has been generally associated with alcoholism but has also been reported in HIV infection. This study examined whether subclinical WE signs could contribute to the heterogeneity of cognitive and motor deficits observed in individuals with both disease conditions (HIV+ALC).Design:61 HIV+ALC individuals and 59 controls were assessed on attention and working memory, production, immediate and delayed episodic memory, visuospatial abilities, and upper limb motor function.Methods:Using Caine criteria (dietary deficiency, oculomotor abnormality, cerebellar dysfunction, and altered mental state), HIV+ALC individuals were classified by subclinical WE risk factors.Results:Signs of subclinical WE were present in 20% of the HIV+ALC participants. For attention/working memory, delayed memory, and upper limb motor function, HIV+ALCCaine 2+ (i.e., meeting two or three criteria) demonstrated the most severe deficits, scoring lower than HIV+ALC Caine 1 (i.e., meeting one criterion), HIV+ALC Caine 0 (i.e., meeting no criteria), and controls.Conclusions:The high prevalence of subclinical signs of WE and relevance to performance indicate that this condition should be considered in assessment of HIV-infected individuals, especially when alcoholism comorbidity is known or suspected. Above and beyond clinical factors such as depression, alcoholism and HIV disease-related variables, AIDS, hepatitis C and drug history known to mediate neuropsychological performance, subclinical WE signs could partly explain the heterogeneity in patterns and severity of cognitive and motor impairments in HIV-infected individuals with alcoholism comorbidity.

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