Background: The natural history and manifestation of HIV-related neurologic disease have been ameliorated by combination antiretroviral therapy (ART). We describe the characteristics of white matter signal abnormalities (WMSA) on magnetic resonance imaging in children with HIV-related neurologic disease.
Methods: We reviewed magnetic resonance imaging scans of children with suspected HIV-related neurologic disease despite early ART and correlated with clinical, neurodevelopmental data, virologic markers and time on ART. These children were also on the Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral (CHER) trial.
Results: Magnetic resonance imaging scans were performed at a mean age 31.9 months (range 8–54) on 44 children: 10 on deferred and 34 on early treatment arms, commencing ART at mean age of 18.5 and 8 weeks, respectively. Multiple high signal intensity lesions on T2/fluid attenuated inversion recovery were documented in 22 patients (50%), predominantly in frontal (91%) and parietal (82%) white matter. No differences in neurodevelopmental scores comparing children with and without WMSA were found. Neither lesion load nor distribution showed significant correlation with neurodevelopmental scores or neurologic examination. Normal head growth was more common in the WMSA group (P = 0.01). There was a trend for association of WMSA and longer time on ART (P = 0.13) and nadir CD4% (P = 0.08).
Conclusions: Half of children referred with HIV-related brain disease had WMSA on T2/fluid attenuated inversion recovery. Our findings of the association with normal head growth and duration of ART require further study. We suspect that WMSA can occur early and that initiating ART by 8 weeks of life may be too late to prevent HIV from entering the central nervous system.