HIV Can Infect Brain, Cause Serious Psychological Problems


A press release from the National Institute of Mental Health and an article in The Atlantic report on a study that found that HIV can infect brains very quickly and lead to a variety of psychiatric symptoms.

“The negative consequences of HIV on the central nervous system have been documented for some time,” reports The Atlantic. “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when antiretroviral therapy was just being developed, patients with advanced HIV would often experience severe motor and cognitive disorders. In the worst cases, this could mean HIV-associated dementia, which a 1986 study determined could manifest itself as a whole host of symptoms, including apathy, withdrawal, muteness, tremors, incontinence, paralysis, and, in some instances, psychosis. A more-recent study from 2004 reported that HIV could eventually impair ‘everyday functioning,’ making it difficult for people to perform well at work and process verbal information. Although such symptoms have become rarer with improved HIV treatment, they remain prevalent — a 2010 study found that 52 percent of HIV-positive subjects had some neurocognitive impairment.”

The NIMH press release states that the recent study found that HIV can infect the brain more quickly than previously thought and that “in some patients, genetic versions of the virus not found in blood evolve in the brain environment. So it could become an independent, compartmentalized viral reservoir, capable of generating treatment-resistant mutant forms that could break out and re-infect the rest of the body after seemingly successful treatment.”

When HIV Infects the Brain (The Atlantic, March 25, 2015)

Findings add urgency to screening, treatment – NIH-funded study (NIMH press release, March 26, 2015)