SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, news release, March 26, 2015
THURSDAY, April 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- HIV can spread to and develop in people's brains in the early stages of infection, new research shows.
The findings highlight the need for screening and early treatment of infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the researchers said.
"Any delay runs the risk that the virus could find refuge and cause damage in the brain, where some medications are less effective, potentially enabling it to re-emerge, even after it is suppressed in the periphery," said Dianne Rausch, director of the division of AIDS research at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The researchers compared evidence of HIV activity in samples of blood and spinal fluid from 72 untreated HIV-infected patients.
The investigators found that 10 percent to 22 percent of the patients showed evidence of HIV replication or inflammation -- which suggests an active infectious process -- in the brain at different times within the first two years of infection. These signs persisted over time in about 16 percent of the patients, they said.
In some patients, HIV began replicating in the brain within the first four months of infection, according to the study published recently in the journal PLoS Pathogens.
The researchers also found that HIV in the central nervous system can evolve into genetically different forms than HIV in other parts of the body.
If the mutated forms of HIV in the brain are treatment-resistant, they could re-infect the rest of the body after seemingly successful treatment for HIV, Rausch said in a news release from the NIMH, which funded the study.
"These results underscore the importance of early diagnosis and treatment with antiretroviral therapy," Rausch said.
Further research is needed to determine if the potential brain damage caused by early HIV infection is reversible with antiviral therapy, said study co-author Ronald Swanstrom, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about HIV/AIDS.