Background: Neuroinflammation plays an important role in HIV-associated neurological disorders; however, its role prior to the onset of symptomatic disease is unclear. We imaged microglial activation, the hallmark of neuroinflammation, in asymptomatic HIV-infected patients on effective combination ART.
Methods: Seven neurologically and cognitively asymptomatic adults with chronic HIV-infection and nine healthy volunteers were investigated with [11C]-PK11195 PET, a marker of translocator protein (TSPO) expressed by activated microglia. In the HIV-infected patients, cognitive speed, accuracy and executive function were also assessed. Between-group differences in [11C]-PK11195 binding potential were localized throughout the brain with statistical parametric mapping (SPM) and associations between levels of [11C]-PK11195 binding and cognitive performance were interrogated using linear regression modelling.
Results: In HIV-infected patients, Statistical parametric mapping detected clusters of significantly increased [11C]-PK11195 binding in corpus callosum (P = 0.001), anterior cingulate (P = 0.001), posterior cingulate (P = 0.008) and temporal (P = 0.026) and frontal (P = 0.038) areas. Cognitive functions were intact in the HIV group, however, a significant association between greater [11C]-PK11195 binding and poorer executive function performance was observed in the anterior cingulate (P = 0.031), corpus callosum and posterior cingulate (P = 0.001).
Conclusion: Despite effective control of HIV infection, neuroinflammation, as evidenced by the presence of focal cortical areas of activated microglia, occurs in asymptomatic HIV-infected patients and levels correlate with poorer executive performance. Further studies are needed to establish whether detection of activated microglia in HIV-infected patients represents a marker of future neurocognitive decline.