More than half of HIV patients experience memory problems and other cognitive impairments as they age, and doctors know little about the underlying causes. New research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests HIV-related cognitive deficits share a common link with Alzheimer's-related dementia: Low levels of the protein amyloid beta in the spinal fluid.
However, by analzying biomarkers in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, the researchers report Dec. 8 in the journal Neurology, they could distinguish patients with HIV-related cognitive impairments from patients with mild Alzheimer's disease. This is important because as patients with HIV age, some will develop deficits related to HIV and others to Alzheimer's. New treatments in the pipeline to improve memory and thinking may not work for both conditions.
"HIV patients with cognitive dysfunction don't have early Alzheimer's - although some of the symptoms may be similar, " says lead author David Clifford, MD, an authorigy on the neurological complications of HIV and director of Washington University's AIDS Clinical Trials Unit. "The underlying biology of both conditions may be related to amyloid, and we think this clue can help us find the cause of cognitive impairment in HIV patients.