How HIV affected the aging process has long been a question of concern among scientists, doctors, and people living with the disease. Now, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, say recent results from a study show HIV quickly impacts a person’s DNA and accelerates biological changes similar to the natural aging process, including death.
“The findings suggest that new HIV infection may rapidly cut nearly five years off an individual’s life span relative to an uninfected person,” a UCLA press release states.
The disease’s maturing effect on cells happens within two to three years of HIV infection, according the university researchers. Some of the results of the accelerated aging process can manifest in heart and kidney disease, frailty, and cognitive difficulties.
It’s not clear how antiretroviral regimens may affect the aging process caused by HIV, but previous studies have shown it happens regardless of medications — and that the powerful medicines that keep HIV at bay may also contribute to accelerated aging.
UCLA researchers initially studied 102 men, collecting blood samples six months or less before they became infected with HIV and again two to three years after infection. These samples were compared with matching samples from 102 non-infected men of the same age taken over the same time period. Such a study — examining people with HIV alongside HIV-negative people — is the first of its kind, UCLA notes.
The men with HIV showed significant acceleration in each of the researchers’ four measurements of cellular aging — ranging from 1.9 to 4.8 years.
“Our work demonstrates that even in the early months and years of living with HIV, the virus has already set into motion an accelerated aging process at the DNA level,” stated lead author Elizabeth Crabb Breen, a professor emerita at UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “This emphasizes the critical importance of early HIV diagnosis and an awareness of aging-related problems, as well as the value of preventing HIV infection in the first place.”
Researcher hope to augment their findings with more studies that look at more diverse groups, including women and people of color. The UCLA findings were first reported in iScience.