Early Onset of Age-Related Illnesses Common in HIV Patients

Accelerated aging of DNA can lead to diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis.

Accelerated aging of DNA can lead to diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis.

Individuals infected with HIV face an increased risk for the early onset of a variety of age-related illnesses, according to a new study.

Published online in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found HIV can accelerate age-related changes by more than 14 years. The result of these changes leads to earlier onset of age-related conditions, including some types of cancer, renal and kidney disease, frailty, osteoporosis, and neurocognitive disease, the study noted.

"While we were surprised by the number of epigenetic changes that were significantly associated with both aging and HIV-infection, we were most surprised that the data suggests HIV-infection can accelerate aging-related epigenetic changes by 13.7 to 14.7 years," senior author Beth Jamieson, professor of medicine at UCLA, said in a press release. "This number is in line with both anecdotal and published data suggesting that treated HIV-infected adults can develop the diseases of aging mentioned above, approximately a decade earlier than their uninfected peers."

Researchers also sought to determine whether it is HIV itself or the treatment of the disease that causes epigenetic changes associated with age.

The researchers studied clinical, behavioral, and socioeconomic data on HIV-infected males and men at risk for HIV infection over the past 32 years. Additionally, white blood cell samples were taken from men between 20 and 35 years of age, and from men between the ages of 36 and 56 years of age, who had not started antiretroviral therapy at the time.

The samples were divided into 12 HIV-infected and 12 age-matched HIV-uninfected groups with a total of 96 samples. Researchers then extracted DNA from the samples to analyze epigenetic patterns.

A comparison of the patterns strongly linked to aging changes that occur during HIV-infection revealed significant overlap among the 2 epigenetic patterns. The researchers then utilized the overlapping patterns to estimate the biological age of HIV-infected adults who were untreated, which showed these adults appeared to be approximately 14 years older than their actual age.

Despite demonstrating that HIV infection can accelerate age-related epigenetics, it is still undetermined whether antiretroviral therapy can restore the patterns to age-appropriate levels or if the drugs themselves are actually causing additional changes.

“These data suggest that HIV-1 infection does accelerate some aspects of aging and that general aging, and HIV-1 related aging, work through at least some common mechanisms," the study authors wrote. "These results are an important first step for finding potential therapeutic approaches to mitigate the effects of both HIV and aging.”