Epigenetic changes seen in HIV-positive patients can cause biologic aging.
A recent study found that an HIV infection can biologically age patients almost 5 years.
The study, published by Molecular Cell, used a tool that evaluates epigenetic changes in cells that effect the DNA sequence. Once these changes occur, they are passed to the next generation of cells.
Researchers used methylation as the biomarker to analyze changes, since methylation of DNA can influence how genes are made into proteins.
"What we've seen in previous studies is that as we age, methylation across the entire genome changes," said study co-author Trey Ideker, PhD, in a press release. "Some people call it entropy or genetic drift. Although we're not sure of the exact mechanism by which these epigenetic changes lead to symptoms of aging, it's a trend that we can measure inside people's cells."
Included in this analysis were 137 patients enrolled in CHARTER, a long-term study that monitors HIV patients on combination antiretroviral therapy. Patients in the study did not have any other health conditions.
Also included were 44 HIV-negative control group patients.
There was also an independent group used to confirm the findings, which included 48 patients both HIV positive and negative.
Researchers discovered that patients with HIV had an average advance in biological aging of 4.9 years and this change increases the risk of mortality by 19%.
"Another thing that was surprising was that there was no difference between the methylation patterns in those people who were recently infected [less than five years] and those with chronic infection [more than 12 years]," said study co-author Howard Fox, MD, PhD.
Researchers state that it is possible for drugs to be developed to combat these epigenetic changes.
Patients with an HIV infection should also be more aware of their risk for age-related diseases and live a healthier lifestyle, the study concluded.